Horton-Tucker, Norvell Jr. return to Chicago, where love of game began

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Chicago, where Talen Horton-Tucker and Zach Norvell Jr. first picked up a basketball.

Chicago, where Talen Horton-Tucker and Zach Norvell Jr. started their NBA careers.

The Quest Multisport Complex, located on the corner of West Harrison Street and South Washtenaw Avenue, is a 19-minute, 13-mile drive away from Simeon Career Academy High School, where Iowa State’s Horton-Tucker and Gonzaga’s Norvell Jr. were teammates three years ago.

This past weekend, the shooting guards embraced the facility’s competition at the 2019 NBA Combine.

“Talen is one of my good friends,” Norvell Jr. said. “We clicked right away. For us to be able to catch up at the NBA Combine, it’s something pretty special. I always have good talks with him.”

Once Wolverines, the NBA prospects are now talking to each other in hotel rooms rather than playing with each other at Simeon.

The weeks leading up to the June 20 draft are rigorous and filled with workouts, meetings, measurements and scrimmages. With their professional careers at stake, Horton-Tucker and Norvell Jr. took time to reflect upon their relationship and experiences at their old stomping ground.

“That’s my brother,” Horton-Tucker said. “Being around him, going through the same things since both of us are from Chicago -- so overcoming the same things, it’s great for us. And it would be good for us to be drafted.”

Simeon is a factory for NBA talent, producing the likes of Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker. Corey Ray, the No. 2 prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system, also donned the blue and gold.

Horton-Tucker and Norvell Jr. are now tasked with continuing that longstanding tradition at the professional level.

“Being a basketball player from Chicago, there can be a lot of crazy stuff going on around you,” Norvell Jr. said. “Just checking up on each other and making sure everything is cool.”

The latest NBA mock drafts have Horton-Tucker as a late first-round pick and Norvell Jr. as a second-round selection. Horton-Tucker’s 7-foot-1¼ wingspan was the longest among all guards, while Norvell Jr. shot 100% in three different shooting events before tallying a game-high 18 points in the final scrimmage.

The 2019 NBA Combine had a spotlight on the former stars of Simeon, where Horton-Tucker and Norvell Jr. spearheaded the program to multiple Chicago Public League championships.

“It’s amazing actually,” Norvell Jr. said. “Being from Chicago, always something about being here. I have family right down the street, and I’m pretty sure they were tuned into the game. It’s pretty special.”

“I feel like (Chicago) prepared me for every level I’ve played at,” Horton-Tucker said. “I’m going to bring my grittiness and toughness to any team that picks me.”

Kansas point guard Devon Dotson also grew up in Chicago, where he idolized Rose and wore his No. 1 Bulls jersey number throughout college and at the combine.

“It’s a great feeling just coming back home, doing what you love,” Dotson said.

Michigan shooting guard Charles Matthews played for St. Rita, a 24-minute drive from the Quest Multisport Complex. His Chicago experiences helped him overcome challenges, too.

“It helped me a lot,” Matthews said. “It helped me deal with adversity as well. I think that helped me stay on the court.”

Whether it’s Horton-Tucker, Norvell Jr., Dotson or Matthews, the Chicago connections have brought out the best in the city’s finest high school talents from the last half decade.

Fitting that their professional careers began where they first grew to love the game of basketball.