From time to time, members of the Highland Community College basketball team in Kansas play a game of one-upmanship with stories of their high school glory days.
Jaleni Neely keeps his mouth shut and laughs to himself.
"They talk about what they did in their hometown and what they won," Neely said. "It's kind of funny. I don't say anything. I just think to myself, 'If they only knew.'"
One of the few Illinois high school basketball players ever to make a significant contribution to three state championship teams, the 2012 Simeon graduate's game is as understated as his personality.
Rather than accept a scholarship from Northern Illinois, Neely chose the path less traveled in hopes of hooking on with a more established program down the road.
Lauded by Simeon coach Robert Smith throughout his Simeon career for sacrificing individual glory for the good of the team, the 5-foot-11 point guard's new basketball environment is as different as Chicago and Highland, Kansas.
"It really took a lot of time to adjust," said Neely, who's averaging 10.3 points and 2.7 assists in just more than 20 minutes a game. "There's not much around here other than cornfields.
"It is a mental thing, being here alone by myself. It was hard to adjust to not playing with the (Simeon) guys. The talent level went down. I realized pretty quick that I have to do more scoring than distributing for the team."
Only Jabari Parker contributed as much to Simeon's current run of championships as Neely, who also led the Wolverines sophomore team to an undefeated season as a freshman.
Though he shared the starting point guard job with the older Tywon Pinckney as a sophomore and a junior, Neely was usually on the floor in key moments.
"He's a winner," Smith said. "He won on every level he was at. He controlled our team. He knew exactly what I wanted. He was a Simeon basketball player. He took away from his offense to get people open. When he needed to score, like downstate, he made two big 3s."
All 10 of Neely's points in Simeon's 50-48 victory over Proviso East in last year's Class 4A championship came at opportune times.
With the Wolverines sputtering offensively late in the first half, Neely's two 3-pointers in a span of 1 minute, 16 seconds helped forge a halftime tie.
He also had a layup to bring Simeon within two in the fourth quarter and hit two free throws to give the Wolverines a 47-43 lead with 1:17 to play.
"I definitely miss it," Neely said of playing for Simeon. "I live for those big games. That was part of the adjustment. When we have games out here, the crowd is terrible, maybe 50 people in the stands. I'm used to the big crowd, the big stage. I miss that."
Neely isn't sure what his next step is, whether he'll return to Highland next year or attend a different junior college.
He doesn't regret turning down the offer from Northern.
"I feel like I made the right choice," Neely said. "I feel like I'm developing as a player. I don't know how I would have developed playing spot minutes. Getting all the minutes I can has given me a chance to develop."
Jaleni Neely file
High school: Simeon, Class of 2012.
College: Highland Community College.
Position: Point guard.
Numbers: 10.3 points, 2.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds per game.
No. 1 Simeon vs. Bogan
What: Chicago Public League tournament quarterfinals.
When: 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Chicago State University.
Records: Simeon 21-2, Bogan 16-8.
Mike Helfgot's quick take: Bogan tested Simeon on Jan. 23, and Simeon passed, breaking open a six-point game early in the fourth quarter to record a 67-48 road victory that helped the Wolverines to the Red-South title. Bogan has a pair of good guards in sophomore Luwane Pipkins and senior Juwan Henry. Pipkins will have to break his habit of slow starts to give the Bengals a shot. Simeon should be sharp after coach Robert Smith lit into his Wolverines following an uninspired 74-50 second-round victory over Harlan.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times