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

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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."

Sunday on CSN: UIC travels to Valparaiso

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Sunday on CSN: UIC travels to Valparaiso

Horizon League basketball returns to CSN on Sunday as UIC travels to Valparaiso. This game tips at 2:00 p.m. live on CSN.

The Flames (11-8, 4-2) have won three straight games and have played pretty good ball after the loss of Dikembe Dixson to a torn ACL. Junior big man Tai Odiase, a Homewood-Flossmoor graduate, is playing well along with former St. Rita product Dominique Matthews.

Valparaiso (15-4, 5-1) is hoping to maintain its conference lead behind senior All-American candidate Alec Peters. The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 23.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game on the season.

The Crusaders won the first time these two teams played at UIC on Dec. 30 as Tevonn Walker had 23 points.

Saturday on CSN: Loyola, Illinois State host Missouri Valley opponents

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Saturday on CSN: Loyola, Illinois State host Missouri Valley opponents

CSN will have two Missouri Valley Conference games with local teams on Saturday. 

The first game tips at 3 p.m. live on CSN as Evansville heads to Loyola. The second game tips at 7 p.m. and is also live on CSN as Drake will play at Illinois State.

Loyola (13-7, 3-4) is coming off of a tough road loss in double overtime to Northern Iowa. The Ramblers have been led by senior Milton Doyle this season as the former Marshall star is one of the better guards in the Valley.

Evansville (10-10, 1-6) has dropped five straight games as they're struggling to gain any momentum in conference play. Senior guard Jaylon Brown is having an outstanding season for the Purple Aces as he's putting up 21.2 points per game.

The second matchup has Drake (6-13, 4-3) traveling to Illinois State. The Bulldogs have won three of four games and junior guard Reed Timmer is dangerous while former Saint Viator product Ore Arogundade is having a solid sophomore season. 

Illinois State (15-4, 7-0) is leading the Valley after a huge win over Wichita State as they've won eight straight games. The Redbirds are hoping to make a run to an NCAA tournament bid with another home win.