Will Simeon's Smith be the next coach at Illinois?

669736.png

Will Simeon's Smith be the next coach at Illinois?

Bruce Weber still is the head basketball coach at the University of Illinois. But for how much longer? And if first-year athletic director Mike Thomas decides that it is time to make a change, whom will he hire as the next coach? And will he be black or white?

Would he hire Robert Smith?

Smith, 40, will have accomplished everything he set out to do at the high school level if he coaches his Simeon team to a fifth state championship in his eight-year career. No other coach in state history has won more than four state titles.

"I love Simeon," Smith said. "College would have to be the right situation. But I would consider it if it was a major Division I college.

"Illinois would be a hard job to pass up. I would definitely look into it. With the talent pool in Illinois for the next three or four years, if you could get them to stay at home, Illinois could win an NCAA title with just players from the classes of 2013, 2014 and 2015."

Other African-American coaches who could be on Thomas' list are Tommy Amaker, Johnny Dawkins, Tubby Smith, Leonard Hamilton, Maurice Cheeks, Craig Robinson, Gary Anderson, Paul Hewitt and Jeff Capel.

But can a coach persuade the state's elite players to stay at home?

In recent years, Illinois has lost Homewood-Flossmoor's Julian Wright and Crane's Sherron Collins to Kansas, Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer to Duke, Simeon's Derrick Rose to Memphis, Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear to Louisville, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright to Connecticut and Prospectives' Anthony Davis to Kentucky.

"I think a lot of them would love to stay home and win a national title for their home state," Smith said. "Remember what Illinois and DePaul once had, when kids stayed home? Look how exciting it was when Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle and Dee Brown stayed at home."

Smith reminds that his coach and mentor, the late Simeon coach Bob Hambric, instilled in him the idea that Chicago kids should stay at home. Hambric encouraged most of his best players, including Anderson, Deon Thomas, Ervin Small, Bryant Notree, Kevin Turner and Calvin Brock, to attend Illinois.

"I'm an Illinois guy," Smith said. "Not everyone can go to Illinois. It isn't a fit for everyone. But it can be special if the best kids stay home. I look at Illinois as a sleeping giant. It needs to be woken up. There is no reason why the program can't be as exciting as it used to be."

Is Illinois ready for a high school coach? The Illini rejected Quincy's Sherrill Hanks when he sought the basketball job. And they didn't seriously consider Evanston's Murney Lazier when he applied for the football job.

Hanks was well prepared. He did his homework. He had the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association in his corner. His staff would have included Thornridge's Ron Ferguson and Farragut's Wardell Vaughn. High school coaches throughout the state were irate that Hanks was snubbed.

But there was pressure from members of Illinois' Board of Trustees to replace ousted football coach Ron Zook with an African-American. However, Thomas chose Tim Beckman. So pressure is mounting to hire an African-American basketball coach.

Smith, a Simeon graduate, is in his eighth year as head coach at his alma mater. He is seeking his fifth state championship, the most in state history, one more than East St. Louis Lincoln's Bennie Lewis and Lawrenceville's Ron Felling.

He has coached two of the best players in state history, Rose and Jabari Parker, a 6-foot-8 junior who is being recruited by Illinois and every major Division I program. He is considered the No. 1 player in the nation regardless of class.

When Smith succeeded Hambric, he set an unprecedented goal for himself -- to win more state championships that any coach in state history.

"I wanted to put my name in the history book all by myself," he said. "Winning the state title this year is real important because of the stage we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year.

"But these kids haven't won the Public League title. They have won state twice but Jabari and Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn haven't won city on the varsity level since 2007, when Derrick was a senior.

"Sure, I would rather win state than city. But it's starting to bother me that we aren't accomplishing all of our goals."

In the last seven years, Smith's teams were 197-36, an .845 winning percentage.

Lewis guided East St. Louis Lincoln to state titles in 1982, 1987, 1988 and 1989. Felling's Lawrenceville teams won in 1972, 1974, 1982 and 1983. Smith won in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

"When I started, I set a goal to have the most state titles before I went on," Smith said. "I want to be the one everyone else is chasing. I started chasing Bennie Lewis."

High School coaches 'leave no stone unturned' in helping players explore next level

final-enterprise-1038x576.jpg
Photo at top: Loyola Academy assistant coach Paul Pryma extends his hand toward a Steinmetz High School player during pregame introductions on Feb. 21. (Andres Waters/MEDILL)

High School coaches 'leave no stone unturned' in helping players explore next level

By Andres Waters
Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com

After Loyola Academy held off rival New Trier 43-40 to win the 2017 Zion-Benton regional championship, Ramblers head coach Tom Livatino had a special message for his players.

"That's the best celebration that I have ever been a part of," Livatino said. "Because everybody was completely about love. You guys love each other and we all can tell. I'm really, really proud just to be one of our coaches."

While the speech was a powerful way for Livatino to tell the players of his appreciation, he and other high school coaches engage in something much bigger to show players how proud they are: college recruiting.

In addition to time spent planning and practicing, coaches also sacrifice countless hours each week helping their players find opportunities to play at the next level.

"It's a really long part of the process, but to be honest, it's a part of the job that I absolutely love," Livatino said. "We demand so much of our players in every aspect. And, from a basketball standpoint, the least I could do is everything in my power to help them out."

Less than 48 hours after the Ramblers completed their season with a loss to Evanston Township in the Waukegan Sectional semifinal, Livatino was back in his office holding individual meetings with each player.

Starting with the 10 departing seniors, Livatino discussed the factors that go into choosing a college for high school athletes.

His conversations with the two players who already committed, senior guards Ramar Evans and Matt Lynch, focused on how they felt about their next steps. With the others, Livatino asked whether they wanted to play at the next level and, if so, which schools they wanted to attend that shared an interest in them. The conversations held with the Ramblers' juniors are very similar.

"I wasn't just looking for basketball, I was looking for a fit academically and socially," said Lynch, who committed to Division III St. Norbert College. "[Livatino] said St. Norbert would be the best fit for me. It fit everything I was looking for."

Read the full story at Medill Reports Chicago.

CSN Chicago, in partnership with Northwestern University,  features journalism by students in the graduate program at Medill School of Journalism. The students are reporters for Medill News Service. Medill faculty members edit the student work. Click here for more information about Medill.

From dunks to deliveries: Former No. 1 pick LaRue Martin's unlikely success story

martin-pic-1038x576.jpg
Photo at top: La Rue Martin poses for a photo at a National Basketball Retired Players Association event. (Photo courtesy of La Rue Martin)

From dunks to deliveries: Former No. 1 pick LaRue Martin's unlikely success story

By Elan Kane
Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com

LaRue Martin Jr. thought his future was set. The Portland Trail Blazers had drafted him No. 1 overall in the 1972 NBA draft. Money and fame awaited.

Fifteen years later, he started work as a UPS driver, struggling to find uniform pants that fit his 6-foot-11 frame.

"There is life after sports," Martin said. "Period."

It's been 45 years since the draft and Martin, a former Loyola University star, is now the UPS Illinois district public affairs and community services manager. He is labeled by many as one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history, but he is fine with that designation.

"I don't believe in saying anything negative, you have no control over that," Martin said. "I took care of my family, did what I had to do and I'm the type of person I can't dwell off the negatives. I can't. I kept my head up high and moved onto a positive mode of life and it has treated me very well."

Martin averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in 14 minutes per game in just four seasons with the Trail Blazers. He blames his low numbers on his lack of playing time, but many believe he was just not good enough.

"He didn't get playing time because he [stunk]," said Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan, who has covered the NBA for decades. "[Former No. 1 overall draft pick Michael] Olowokandi didn't do much but I think he did more than that."

Martin is used to the criticism.

"As a young man, reading the papers all the time, that bothered me, I must admit that," Martin said. "But I hold my head up high now because I've been very successful in the corporate world."

Read the full story at Medill Reports Chicago.

CSN Chicago, in partnership with Northwestern University,  features journalism by students in the graduate program at Medill School of Journalism. The students are reporters for Medill News Service. Medill faculty members edit the student work. Click here for more information about Medill.