Q&A: Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith

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Q&A: Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith

Robert Smith, the Christmas holidays are over, your team won the championship at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament as expected and Jabari Parker won the A.C. Williamson award for the second year in a row. And your team is rated No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in the nation.So is it truly a Happy New Year?Definitely. I like our bonding. The Peoria Manual game (Simeon won 48-47 in the semifinals) showed us where we are at. We got three stops to win the game. It showed lot about the character of our team.On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your team at the moment?About a five. We have a long way to go if we are going to win games against nationally ranked opponents and go undefeated. Even to win the city and state, we have a long way to go.Do you still believe last year's team was better?Yes. Because they executed our offense and played the Simeon Way all the time. These kids are so talented that they get out of the offense and start doing their own thing away from what we normally do.Potentially, is this the best team you have seen at Simeon?Yes. Talent-wise, it is definitely best team I've seen at Simeon. When we do it, we look really, really good. But then we get out of it and start doing other things.Is Jabari Parker the best player in the country, regardless of class?Yes. He can do so much on the floor, whatever you need him to do. In the championship game (a 44-27 victory over Curie), we didn't need him to score so he blocked shots and rebounded. He creates so much attention that the other team forgets about our other players and they get wide-open shots and are able to make plays. Against Peoria Manual, he took the game over (with 21 points and 12 rebounds).What did you learn about your team over the holidays?We aren't as disciplined as we need to be on offense and defense. That's not the Simeon Way. When I speak of discipline, it's running a set, doing basics, not catching the ball with two hands. We have a lot of loose ends to tighten up on. But we have to remember that they are only juniors and still are learning the game.What do you like about what you are seeing?How well we play defense. It probably is the best defensive team I've had. They really guard.What don't you like?How sometimes we get selfish. There is too much individual play. We get away from our team game. What is the Simeon Way? Smart, disciplined, loyal.Which player impressed you the most?Besides Jabari, Steve Taylor. After the championship, Jabari said Steve should have won the Williamson award. I think so, too. Steve stayed under control, rebounded, scored when we needed him to score and guarded the other team's best player (Curie's 6-9 Cliff Alexander was limited to one basket in the championship game). alex only got one basket). He played like a senior for the tournament.Who needs to step up?Jaleni Neely needs to get fully healthy. He still is recovering from a torn ACL. When he is on floor, we are a better team. He understands what I want. He has run it for four years. He is only 70-75 percent. If he can get to 85-90 percent, we will be all right.Are you settled on your starting lineup?No. Neely isn't starting. He only started the Peoria Manual game. Reggie Norris started in the final. Jaylon Tate has played well, too. He does well coming off the bench, playing 25-26 minutes a game. Tyre Washington and John Gardner need to get more minutes, to give Jabari and Steve some rest.How about your bench?The bench is fine. Some people assumed he would start after he transferred fro De La Salle. But he is coming off the bench. He made the decision when he came here. He understood we had Jeleni. He knew he wouldn't be starting. It shows how much he wants to be on this team and how much he wants to be coached. He has accepted his role. He is fine with it. He still
is learning.Any questions that are still unanswered?How good can we really be? We have to win games on the national level. We want to be respected by everybody besides people in Illinois. We play three national opponents out-of-town in the next three weeks. We have to win two of three. We play next Saturday against Miller Grove (Georgia) at Wheeling, West Virginia. They once were ranked No. 1 in the nation. Then we play Findlay Prep (Nevada), the nation's No. 4 team, in Springfield,
Massachusetts, on Jan. 16. Then we play Southwind, another nationally ranked team, in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 21.Have you had to make any adjustments while coaching the nation's top-ranked team?Yes. I had to let them be a lot more free on the offensive end. I had to change offense a bit. Because we haven't got a dominant center, I had to switch up the offense to get more motion and movement. We want to make the other team's big guys come out on the floor and have to guard Jabari and Steve.What do you think your mentor, the late Bob Hambric, would say about this team?He would say that they are undisciplined. He probably would sub out all five starters and put in five others. I think about it sometimes, too. But I also know we are still in a building stage so I let them go that way. We still are a work in progress. We are nowhere near where we need to be.What advice or change in strategy would Hambric give his former playerassistant?He would say we need to execute our offense. That was something he was big on, running sets all the way and not breaking them off when someone decides to go one-on-one.What date is circled on your calendar?Jan. 16 against Fendlay Prep. On paper, they are the best team in the country. They have so many good players. It would be a great thing for us to beat them. If Jabari and Steve play well, it will show we can play at that level with the talent we have.You have talked in the past about coaching in college. Are you thinking more seriously about that possibility?It has been on my mind a lot lately, more than ever before. People ask if I am getting bored. It isn't boring to win. It's as if I'm looking for a new challenge. If the right opportunity comes along, I'd have to look at it.You are opposed to the four-class format as it is today because you believe it negatively affects Public League schools, as the pre-1972 format did. How would you level the playing field?I don't know. But it has been on my mind for a long time ever since I saw the format as it is now. I talked to (Curie coach) Mike Oliver at the Pontiac tournament. Maybe me, Calvin Davis (director of Public League sports administration) and some other coaches need to sit down with (Illinois High School Association executive director) Marty Hickman and talk about the format. I don't know the answer to it. I know they have rules and we have to follow them. They set it up the best way they know how. Put us in any sectional and we might lose. But we are the attraction right now. Everywhere we go, there is a buzz. The same goes for Whitney Young and Curie. Public league schools should be broken up more and not be sent in the same direction. What is the logic in it? How is it divided? I don't know the answers to those questions. But I want to know. I don't want to talk about something I don't know anything about. I want to know why this is the way it is.How did you celebrate the New Year?With my wife Shaquetta and daughter Yahri and new-born son Robert, who was born Nov. 21. My wife cooked a salmon dinner. It was a quiet evening at home.

Knicks' Derrick Rose on rape case: 'I feel like I didn't do anything wrong'

Knicks' Derrick Rose on rape case: 'I feel like I didn't do anything wrong'

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Derrick Rose said Monday he isn't worried about a rape trial set to start next week because he feels he "didn't do anything wrong."

Rose said he is instead focused on his first season with the New York Knicks. His first practice with the team will be Tuesday.

"My concern is just playing well this year," Rose said. "I can't think about the case. I feel like I'm innocent and I feel like I didn't do anything wrong, like I said, and I can't let that distract me with the year that I have ahead of me."

A woman sued Rose last year in California, contending the former MVP and two of his friends raped her in August 2013 while she was incapacitated after a night of drinking. Rose and the others say they had consensual sex with her that night.

The civil trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 4 - barring any settlement - the day the Knicks play their exhibition opener in Houston. It's unclear how much, if any, of the preseason he would have to miss if there is a trial.

"I'm not worried about it, but if I do have to miss time, it's a part of it," Rose said. "Of course I don't want to be in this position, but it is what it is and I'm going to let my lawyers and my team handle it."

Rose added that he hadn't heard anything about a possibility of criminal charges being brought.

The Knicks acquired Rose from Chicago in June. The point guard said he is healthy after a series of injuries, mostly to his knees, that have plagued him since his MVP season in 2011.

Because of the injuries, Rose hasn't played in more than 66 games a season since he first tore his ACL in the 2012 playoffs. Rehab has forced him to report early or stay late after practices and games for much of the last few years, which he said was tiresome.

But he was able to focus on basketball this summer while adding yoga to his workout routine, and Knicks who have been playing with him say Rose's quickness has returned.

"He's extremely focused right now," All-Star Carmelo Anthony said, adding that he's never played with a point guard with Rose's explosiveness. "He's healthy, he has a different mindset. He has a clear mind and he's ready to go out there and try to help us with our goals."

Rose was the biggest addition to a Knicks team that also signed his former Bulls teammate, Joakim Noah, and veteran guards Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings. If he remains healthy, Rose can get the Knicks playing at a quicker pace and create easier baskets under new coach Jeff Hornacek, after their offense often stalled while playing the triangle under Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis the last two years.

Lee said Rose, who once hit a game-winning shot over him while Lee played for Houston, has looked confident during offseason workouts.

"He kind of reminded me of that MVP D-Rose, especially in some of the drills that we were doing," Lee said. "He was able to get to his spots quick, explosiveness and knock down shots."

Rose averaged 16.4 points in 66 games last season, and most of the games he missed were unrelated to his knees. The Chicago native has been focused on learning a new city and team, traveling with a group of Knicks players to practice in Puerto Rico at Anthony's invitation.

Having to miss time in October would delay his ability to get comfortable. A settlement would prevent that, but Rose didn't discuss that possibility, praising his legal team for taking care of the details.

"They're handling everything and they're giving me time to focus on what I need to focus on and that's just straight basketball," Rose said.

Kyle Hendricks helps transform Cubs into 100-win team

Kyle Hendricks helps transform Cubs into 100-win team

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs have gone from the happy-to-be-here team that crashed last year’s playoff party to a 100-win machine that’s expected to win the World Series or else be remembered as underachievers.  

The evolution of Kyle Hendricks from a fifth starter to a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate helps explain why the Cubs have lived up to the preseason hype and created such expectations for October.

The Cubs won’t be leaving their season up to the coin flip of a wild-card game, the way they did 355 days ago at PNC Park, where it almost looks like the Pittsburgh Pirates still haven’t recovered yet. What once appeared to be a circle-your-calendar showdown that could decide the National League Central is now glorified spring training for the Cubs in late September.   

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Hendricks didn’t have to silence the blackout atmosphere during Monday night’s 12-2 win in front of an announced crowd of 20,519 and sections of empty seats. A quiet, polite Dartmouth College graduate would never troll Pittsburgh fans on Twitter the way Jake Arrieta did last year. But the Cubs are witnessing another historic run that could catapult them through October.  

Hendricks (16-8) lowered his major-league-leading ERA to 1.99 with six scoreless innings against the Pirates (77-79). The Cubs reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and that sense of momentum always begins with starting pitching. Hendricks has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 22 starts.  

“Obviously, we did not anticipate all of this,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s really exceeded, and good for him. This is something I think he can carry on for years. This is by no means a fluke. It’s not an anomaly. This is how good he’s capable of being. So it’s made a big difference that he’s been able to do what he’s done this year. No question.”