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."

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

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USA TODAY

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

CSN will have two quality college basketball matchups on Saturday as two Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge games will be featured live.

Bradley (4-3) has Nevada (6-2) in town for a 7 p.m. game Saturday on CSN while Illinois State (3-2) will host New Mexico (5-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday on CSN+.

The Braves have alternated wins and losses all season as they hope to build momentum off of a road win over Eastern Illinois.

Freshman guard Darrell Brown paces Bradley at 15.3 points per game on 48 percent three-point shooting while junior guard JoJo McGlaston is putting up 12.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.

Nevada enters this one winning four of their last five games as senior guard Marcus Marshall is averaging 20.0 points and 3.9 assists per game. Sophomore forward Cameron Oliver has been generating some pro buzz as he's averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.

In the second contest, Illinois State is hoping for a key non-conference win against a quality opponent. Senior forward Deontae Hawkins is doing some solid damage as he's averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while junior forward MiKyle McIntosh is at 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.

Proviso East product Paris Lee is also having a good year at guard for Illinois State.

New Mexico is led by a former area product as Homewood-Flossmoor graduate Tim Williams is averaging 19.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Lobos. Junior guard Elijah Brown, the son of former NBA coach Mike Brown, is also playing well for New Mexico as he's putting up 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

Preview: Northern Iowa takes on George Mason tonight on CSN+

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USA TODAY

Preview: Northern Iowa takes on George Mason tonight on CSN+

Northern Iowa looks to snap a two-game losing streak as they host George Mason tonight. You can catch this game live on CSN+ at 7 p.m.

The Panthers (3-2) have lost both games to Xavier as Northern Iowa matched up with the top-25 team for the title in the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando before losing to them on the road less than a week later.

Northern Iowa does own some solid wins over Oklahoma and Arizona State as they're led by senior Jeremy Morgan, who is averaging 16.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game -- which all lead the team. 

Junior forward Klint Carlson has also been strong for the Panthers as he's put up 12.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.

George Mason (3-2) has won three consecutive games -- with two of those wins coming by four points or less. The Patriots haven't played anyone as good as Northern Iowa yet as they beat Kent State, Bradley and James Madison.