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."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' shutout win over Bruins

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' shutout win over Bruins

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins on Friday night:

1. A sluggish start.

The Blackhawks have gotten off to some solid starts lately, scoring the game's first goal in the opening frame in five of their last six contests heading into Friday. But they were lucky to get out of the first in a 0-0 tie this time.

They had 15 shot attempts (six on goal) through the first 20 minutes while the Bruins had 30 attempts (17 on goal). Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Scott Darling stopped all of them that came his way.

Boston's third line of Ryan Spooner, Riley Nash and David Backes dominated possession, leading all skaters with a plus-12 Corsi in the period.  

2. Scott Darling steals two points.

Joel Quenneville decided to go with Darling in an effort to give a slumping Corey Crawford a chance to reset, and the Lemont native an opportunity to play in front of his father away from home, where he's used to watching him shine. It's safe to say he made his papa proud by putting on a great show.

Darling turned aside all 30 shots he faced, including 17 in the first period, for his second shutout of the season and fourth of his career. He has now allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his last 12 starts. 

Asked after the game whether he will earn a second straight start Sunday when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks, Quenneville responded, "We'll see."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Special teams not a factor.

In a game that featured only one goal, you'd think the way to crack the scoresheet would be on the man advantage. That didn't happen.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Bruins failed to cash in on their only two opportunities. Boston entered the contest by going 7-for-17 on the power play in their previous five games, good for a 41.2 success rate.

It was a nice bounce-back game for the Blackhawks' penalty kill unit, which allowed a goal on the man advantage in their previous two games.

4. Third line steps up at crucial moment.

The Blackhawks' third line of Vinnie Hinostroza, Marian Hossa and Tanner Kero had the worst possession numbers among all skaters, each registering a 24 percent Corsi or below. But when their team needed them the most, they stepped up.

With 1:26 left in regulation, Hossa ended his 10-game goal drought by burying home a terrific feed from Kero to snap a 0-0 tie and give the Blackhawks their second consecutive win. It's Hossa's 17th goal of the campaign, which ties Artemi Panarin for second on the team, and his fifth game-winning goal of the year. His 83 career game-winning goals now ranks 24th in NHL history, surpassing Mike Bossy, and remains fifth among active players.

Hossa's goal also moved him within a tie of Pierre Turgeon for 37th on the all-time goals list with 516.

Kero has six points in his last six games, while Hinostroza has two goals and one assist in his past two.

5. Despite recent struggles, Bruins in good hands with Claude Julien.

It seems like this is a discussion every year, but firing Julien would be a huge mistake for a Bruins team that fell to 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. They're still the No. 1 possession team in the NHL, controlling 55.42 percent of the even-strength shot attempts, and give up the fifth-fewest high danger scoring chances with 326, according the naturalstattrick.com. They average the second-most shots on goal per game at 33.9, and allow the second-fewest at 26.5.

To back it up, their PDO is 97.5 percent, the sum of a team's even-strength save percentage and shooting percentage that usually works it way toward 100, which indicates they're due for a fairly large correction. They're not getting bounces right now, but they're playing the right way and a change behind the bench would be a step in the wrong direction, considering Julien is easily a top-five coach in the NHL.

Bulls lifeless in Atlanta despite fourth quarter rally

Bulls lifeless in Atlanta despite fourth quarter rally

The bus was warm before the game started, as the Bulls looked like they wanted no parts of the Atlanta Hawks.

It was evident from the jump that playing with a full and healthy squad for one of the few times this season wasn’t enough to arouse their competitive juices, as they put together arguably their worst 48-minute showing in a 102-93 loss at Philips Arena, dropping them to 21-23.

Fred Hoiberg, fed up with the starters, ran with the reserves for the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by nearly 25 points, bringing the lead to 95-90 with a minute left before a Dennis Schroeder jumper restored order with 52.6 seconds left.

Four Hawks scored in double figures led by Schroeder’s 25 points and six assists and Paul Millsap scored 14 while making all four of his shots in just 22 minutes of run.

Perhaps it’s the Hawks being the same kryptonite to the Bulls that the Bulls are to the Toronto Raptors — except the Bulls simply frustrate the Raptors, not embarrass them.

The Hawks shot over 60 percent for most of the night until the game devolved into what amounted to a pickup game late. After all, the Hawks seemed to be battling boredom by half, leading 65-36 and shooting 68 percent from the field and hitting 67 percent from three.

The Bulls weren’t about to make it any more suspenseful than it had to be, as they started off missing their first 11 3-pointers, often missing multiple open looks on the same possession.

It wasn’t relegated to just shooting as the Bulls squandered easy opportunities in easy situations, like Denzel Valentine turning a three-on-one fast break into an airballed finger-roll attempt that he caught himself — a violation, of course.

This one was over a few minutes into it, as the Bulls looked like a lifeless squad with no direction and very little fight, short of a minor dustup between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez in the third quarter.

At that point, though, all Howard had to do is point at the scoreboard, where a 30-point lead did all the necessary talking.

The Bulls trailed by 20 even before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 35-footer to end the first quarter, sending the Hawks off on a high and seemingly demoralizing the Bulls.

Even Jimmy Butler’s 19-point night, hitting six of his eight shots in 29 minutes, rang hollow. The Bulls could’ve trotted out a D-League team for the second half to gear up for Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings and been better off than how they performed Friday night.

And for the Bulls, they can’t simply just go back to the drawing board. There looks to be something fundamentally wrong with this bunch — either that, or the Atlanta night got the best of them Thursday.