Smith's goal: 4 titles in a row

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Smith's goal: 4 titles in a row

Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith is running out of goals to surpass and milestones to establish.

Last season, Smith became the first high school coach in Illinois history to win five state championships. East St. Louis Lincoln's Bennie Lewis and Lawrenceville's Ron Felling won four.

In 2012-13, he will seek to become the first coach in state history to win four titles in a row. Peoria Manual's Wayne McClain also won three.

"I'm definitely resigned to coming back next year and winning another state title at Simeon," Smith said. "My name might be out there (for a college coaching position) but I'm staying at Simeon. I made the decision after the Final Four. I feel comfortable here. It is the best thing for me, to come back and win a fourth title in a row. That is the challenge for me, especially with the talent we have."

Smith, 40, said he isn't bitter about not being seriously considered for the vacancy at Illinois or any other major college position. "I'm realistic. I know it is a longshot for me to jump from high school to a major Division I school without any head coaching experience at the college level. But I felt I should pursue it as long as the opportunity was there. I love what I do at Simeon and what we have going on," he said.

In all candor, Smith didn't think the hiring process at Illinois would go as far as it did. He never was interviewed by Illini athletic director Mike Thomas but he was interviewed by the search team. "I'm glad they considered me. I did what all other candidates did. Some got interviews, some didn't," Smith said.

He said he probably wasn't as qualified as most of the candidates, especially those with head coaching experience at the college level. "But if (Thomas) is a risk-taker, I'm the one to pick. But (Thomas) made the best choice for the university for going ahead," Smith said.

But Smith has some advice for new coach John Groce and his staff as they go about the difficult task of rebuilding Illinois' program and attracting the caliber of talent necessary to put a championship contender on the floor.

"You have to reach back into the communities, not just the kids and their parents. You have to talk Illinois basketball in restaurants and barber shops. You have to promote the program. It hasn't been promoted that well lately," Smith said.

"You have to get the kids to stay home and commit to going to school here. Kids watch and see where other kids are going across the country. Kids want to play with some people. That's huge right now. If you persuade a player like Jabari Parker to come to Illinois, as DePaul did with Mark Aguirre, they can bring other good players with them."

In reassessing his 2011-12 championship team, Smith said it probably ranked as the second or third best team he has produced but admitted it had more talent than any of the others.

"Last year, we had a lot of depth, two five-man lineups," he said. "The difference between this team and others was the schedule. Last year, they went out of town two or three times and won only once. This team went out of town five times and lost only one game. They played a national schedule and were able to win. Those are things I look at when comparing teams. They went into hostile environments and were successful."

Next year? Smith returns four starters -- Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Kendall Pollard and Jaylon Tate. His fifth starter likely will be 6-foot-8 senior Quon Davis, who didn't play much as a junior because of a broken ankle. Tyree Washington, Dennis Williams, Bobby Harris, Edward Morrow and Brandon Hutton will provide depth. He looks for Parker and Tate to provide leadership.

"I can see us being No. 1 in the state and among the top five in the nation," he said. "We can repeat in city and state. I don't think we'll be the best team ever. I don't think there will be a team that will go undefeated unless they play locally. To be ranked as the best in the country, you have to go out and play a national schedule. But a traditional school (not a prep school) won't go undefeated. If you want to surpass what Thornridge did in 1972, you'd have to reach deep for that goal."

As he looks ahead to his ninth season as head coach, Smith said he benefited from last year's experience. "It was more challenging because we were ranked No. 1 from the beginning of the season. There was more pressure on us," he said.

"I learned to be more patient. I expected more out of my players and they didn't sit back and realize they were only juniors, as talented as they were. They didn't have all that much floor time except for Parker, Nunn, Pollard, Tate and (Reggie) Norris. I rushed them. I didn't realize that they needed more floor time. Then we started to roll. I think they got better coaching than previous years."

Meanwhile, Smith doesn't agree with critics who charge that the perception of recruiting in Chicago is that college coaches must deal with street agents, AAU coaches, influence peddlers, shoe companies and a lot of people with the hands out in order to land a blue chip player.

He acknowledges there have been controversial issues in the past that tainted the city, involving former Public League stars Efrem Winters, Deon Thomas, Sherron Collins, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis, but he insists the allegations of under-the-table payoffs are untrue.

"I don't know why Chicago has that perception. Guys have to come in here and work. Every college coach has come into Simeon to recruit. We don't ask for anything and we don't want anything," Smith said.

"We just want to be sure that if our kids attend their college, they should treat them as their own. We don't ask for a starting position or anything else. I can't talk about other (city) programs, only Simeon. No one can say I asked for anything. I opened up our doors and said: 'Here are our players. Watch them play.' But you have to build a relationship with a player and his parents if you're going to recruit him to your school."

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo gets day off vs. Mariners

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo gets day off vs. Mariners

Anthony Rizzo isn't in the lineup on Saturday afternoon as the Cubs battle the Seattle Mariners.

The Cubs first baseman is getting the day off. 

"He’s really been needing a day, so it just turned out really well for today," said manager Joe Maddon. "Day game and then a night game tomorrow actually gives him more of an extended time to rest. We rely on him so heavily all the time. It was just the right thing to do today."

Willson Contreras will be his replacement for the day.

Saturday is the first regular-season day off for Rizzo since June 5 — and first since the All-Star break nearly three weeks ago. 

“I think it’s important to give them time off, I really do," Maddon said. "I think it’s really unrealistic to expect high-end performance by pushing someone to 162 games. ...A guy like Rizz, maybe he needs five or six plus for regular off days in a year to really be productive consistently."

Maddon also stressed the fact that he wants to keep his players healthy and not overwork them.

"I don’t want to wait til a guy who gets hurt to need a day off," Maddon said. "I’d rather be proactive with that. I put out the feelers yesterday to ask around who’s going to be needing a day. So I have other ideas coming up possibly, but for today it was absolutely the right thing to do for Rizz."

Rizzo is batting .214/.250/.464 in 14 games after the break. His 24 homers and 79 RBIs are among the league's best.

Rizzo has missed three games this season, two of which were due to back stiffness.

"I think it’s wise to be proactive, physically and mentally to give them their rest," Maddon said. "I think you’re going to get a sharper performance on a more consistent basis."

With Ted Larsen, Bears O-line doesn't yet need SOS call

With Ted Larsen, Bears O-line doesn't yet need SOS call

The story from about five years ago goes like this: Ted Larsen and his girlfriend were out on the water, deep sea fishing, when they heard a Coast Guard warning about three kayakers in distress. Realizing the location was relatively nearby, Larsen immediately headed to the area, found the trio, and pulled them aboard before any other help could get there.

The Bears offensive line isn't in nearly as much distress, but after the retirements of veterans Manny Ramirez and Nate Chandler before they would even play a game for them, along with Kyle Long going down on with a calf strain in Thursday's opening practice of training camp, the former Buccaneer and Cardinal may be an important lifeline on Dave Magazu's unit.

"We gotta get some depth there. We have very little depth," Larsen said earlier this week in Bourbonnais. "The guys we do have are good. I think it's just finding the five best guys we have and throw them out there. There's competition everywhere, obviously besides Kyle, so...I'm ready to play whatever position. I've started ten-plus games at every position inside. Wherever they need me to help the team out, I'm ready to go."

Which he wasn't back in June, missing the last half of OTAs and the entire three-day mandatory minicamp with a calf strain of his own. Long was on the sidelines Saturday watching practice without the boot he'd been wearing the previous two days in hopes of speeding the healing process. And while the team's encouraged it's not a long-term injury, flashbacks of Alshon Jeffery's struggles that began with a calf strain a year ago will force them to proceed cautiously.

[MORE: Bears sign Willie Young to two-year contract extension]

As a result, Larsen's stepped in for Long at right guard when the original plan was to have him compete with second-round pick Cody Whitehair and Hroniss Grasu (who have one season of NFL experience between them) at left guard and center, respectively. In his six-year career, Larsen's started 34 games at left guard, 13 at right guard, and ten at center.

"As the unit gets better, the whole team gets better. I'm not scared of any rookies or younger guys. I've played a lot of games, some playoff games. We all have experience in this league. Whoever's out there is out there, whether I'm playing center and helping Cody, or I'm helping Grasu, or whatever it is. You don't want guys to play worse, you want `em to play better, so when you're in there, you're playing at a high level."

The Bears struck on the opening day of free agency to sign Larsen's Arizona teammate from the last two seasons, Bobby Massie, to become their new right tackle. Two weeks later, Larsen followed.

"It's a program on the rise," the 29-year-old explained. "Bobby had signed here.  We played together and it was just another opportunity to come in on a one-year ($1.65 million) deal. It's kinda what I wanted. Play well, have a chance to start, and be on a competitive team."

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

The deal came a day after Ramirez originally signed and a month before Whitehair was drafted and Matt Slauson subsequently cut. Things have changed again since then, and for a team adapting to more of a zone-blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, cohesion and communication and comfort is crucial before the regular season starts.

Larsen originally played alongside Willie Young as a defensive lineman at North Carolina State before being switched to the other side of the line his junior season. Larsen was a sixth-round draft pick of New England in 2010, but was subsequently cut. Young was a seventh-rounder by Detroit that year. As Young earned a two-year contract extension Saturday, Larsen hopes to prove his worth to the Bears this season, as well. While avid fisherman Young reeled in a new deal, Larsen shares the same off-field passion, part of the reason he was around to help rescue those kayakers.

"We actually were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale this offseason, same day. He was actually going to fish somewhere else and I was going to the (Florida) Keys. It's definitely a mutual interest, same for Bobby Massie - he's another big fisherman."

Who's the best?

"I dunno," Larsen answers. "We just do it for fun."

27 Days to Kickoff: Whitney Young

27 Days to Kickoff: Whitney Young

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. You can view Edgy Tim's other football previews here.

School: Whitney Young

Head coach: Tim Franken

Assistant coaches: Victor Marin, Chris Mallette, Cam Browns and Matt Derrig.

How they fared in 2015: 9-1 (7-0) CPL Chicago Big Shoulders Conference. Whitney Young made the Class 7A state playoff field and lost to Niles North in opening-round action.

Biggest storyline in 2016: How will the Dolphins fare moving up to the CPL Illini Red Bird conference this season?

Names to watch this season: RB Ke'Vaughn Chappell, OL/DL Justeon Kimmons

Biggest holes to fill: Can the Dolphins find some answers at quarterback and linebacker after graduation losses from this past spring?

EDGY's Early Take: Whitney Young has been very strong over the past few seasons, and now comes a move up in competition to the rugged CPL Illinois Red Bird conference. Having an All-State running back in Chappell and four returning offensive linemen should help the Dolphins chances this season.