Simeon boys basketball team travel to Senegal with Derrick Rose


Tim Flowers is sort of a son of Simeon. He was a power forward for the high school’s basketball team in the mid-2000s that behind Derrick Rose won back-to-back state championships under longtime coach Robert Smith.

With Smith announcing his retirement after the upcoming season, Flowers, 34, will succeed him.

His new role on the horizon, Flowers really wanted to connect with his team. He views himself as not only a teacher of the game but as someone wanting to build community with his players. Flowers developed lifelong friendships with his Simeon teammates more than 16 years ago — a brotherhood, he calls it. And he wanted to begin that same culture among his players.

Flowers last year traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, and said he felt an instant connection with the people and culture there. He wanted his players to experience the same and thought it was important for them to be around and hear from Rose, someone who was in their shoes 15 years ago and went on to NBA stardom.

After some conversations with Rose and Simeon assistant coaches Joshua Davis and Jaleni Neely, they decided to take the team on the trip of a lifetime.

The four and a group of chaperones escorted 14 members of the team on a six-day August adventure to Senegal in West Africa. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, former Chicago Bulls teammates and NBA All-Stars who remain close with Rose, joined them.

Rose sponsored the trip, and players were chosen based on their grades and behavior. Flowers wanted to make sure the kids going would get the most out of the experience.

“I started coaching and giving back to the community at 23 years old,” Flowers told the Tribune. “It’s something that I’ve always been passionate about, like I’ve done a lot of activism and stuff around the city.

“I wanted to share that experience with young people in hopes that the experience, the things that they learned, the knowledge that they gained from conversation with Derrick, Joakim (Noah) and all these people that they brought that back to … Simeon and we start to try to figure out how we can use the trickle-down effect of leadership within this building.”

Players watched Rose work out on the court, and the New York Knicks guard answered questions from the kids about history, basketball and life. Noah, they said, told them to be citizens of the world while Rose reminded them that in the face of adversity “we’re built for this” and to “enjoy the process of becoming great.”

“I really couldn’t even stop smiling when I was around (Derrick),” Simeon senior Kaiden Space said. “He’s my favorite player. Just being around him and him not even like acting like he’s a superstar. He’s acting like one of us. He doesn’t treat us any other type of way that he does anybody. He definitely gave us tips about … never changing who you are for anybody.”

Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose smile in the final minutes of a Bulls playoff game on April 30, 2015.

At Simeon, Rose helped lead the Wolverines to IHSA Class AA state championships in 2006 and 2007 and was named Mr. Basketball of Illinois after his senior season. The Bulls selected the hometown star with the first pick of the 2008 NBA draft. In seven seasons with the Bulls — he sat out 2012-13 because of injury — Rose was named Rookie of the Year and in 2011 became the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history. He also was a three-time All-Star.

Throughout his career, the point guard has given back to the Chicago community. He paid for funerals of gun violence victims and donated $1 million to After School Matters, a Chicago-based nonprofit that arranges out-of-school apprenticeships for teens and has a program at Simeon. A Chicago sports icon, Rose has and continues to inspire young ballplayers across the city, especially at his alma mater.

Rose’s connection with Simeon players during the trip meant the world to Flowers. He was able to show the team what his Simeon brotherhood was like. One of the school’s brightest stars shared his knowledge with those following in his footsteps.

Sophomore Phoenix Childs was recovering from a broken leg, but doctors cleared him just in time for the trip. His mother, Jacqueline Hardison, was reluctant to let her son go so far away but was confident in the coaches accompanying him and felt the trip would be something he needed.

“I knew that he was going to be around great men with great vision, and it was really going to give him the fuel that he needed,” she said.

“He just came off of an injury. And he lost one of his friends to gun violence. He was in a really kind of different space before he went. And so I felt like the trip was exactly what he needed to kind of give him a boost to keep going. They play basketball. But it’s just so much bigger than that. They’re human beings. They are men. Just trying to make it in this crazy city and in this crazy world.”

Phoenix was quiet when he returned home, but Hardison said she could tell he was just processing everything he had been a part of in Africa. He was especially captivated by being around and hearing from Rose.

For the coaches and the students, it was a life-changing experience. They immersed themselves in Senegalese culture by trying local cuisine, visiting museums and landmarks and sightseeing. The group also mixed in some basketball with a visit to NBA Academy Africa, an elite training center in Senegal for the top male and female basketball prospects from throughout the continent.

“We actually made history by taking that trip,” Neely said. “We were the first team and first group of people to bring a group of young Black men over there to that part of Africa. And that was actually the first home game for those African basketball players.

While in Senegal, the Simeon basketball teams visited the Musée de la renaissance.  Here the group is photographed at the African Renaissance Monument outside Dakar, Senegal, in August 2022.

“That’s something these kids are going to try to cherish forever. And honestly I think they felt the impact every day from just being in their regular high school and that setting every day. I hear our players saying now, ‘Man, take me back to Africa. Take me back to Africa.’ It was because it was just so peaceful. It was so different. It was so humbling just to be out there and experience that.”

The part of the trip that stood out the most was a visit to Gorée Island — a tiny island off the coast of Senegal known for its role in the Atlantic slave trade.

“It was unbelievable,” Space said. “I couldn’t believe I was in Africa. It was definitely eye opening. I just learned so much. And I learned a lot of things about myself and our teammates and even about my culture.

“I feel like the life aspect was the most important part of it because I feel like when I came back home I was like a whole different person.”

Flowers said the trip accomplished everything he thought it would. He can see a change in his players’ attitudes. He can see bonds forming from the shared cultural experience and hopes to make it an annual trip.

“I enjoy coaching. I love coaching,” Flowers said. “But it’s so much more for young people to understand about life than a game of basketball.”

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