Q&A: Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith

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Q&A: Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith

Robert Smith, the Christmas holidays are over, your team won the championship at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament as expected and Jabari Parker won the A.C. Williamson award for the second year in a row. And your team is rated No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in the nation.So is it truly a Happy New Year?Definitely. I like our bonding. The Peoria Manual game (Simeon won 48-47 in the semifinals) showed us where we are at. We got three stops to win the game. It showed lot about the character of our team.On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your team at the moment?About a five. We have a long way to go if we are going to win games against nationally ranked opponents and go undefeated. Even to win the city and state, we have a long way to go.Do you still believe last year's team was better?Yes. Because they executed our offense and played the Simeon Way all the time. These kids are so talented that they get out of the offense and start doing their own thing away from what we normally do.Potentially, is this the best team you have seen at Simeon?Yes. Talent-wise, it is definitely best team I've seen at Simeon. When we do it, we look really, really good. But then we get out of it and start doing other things.Is Jabari Parker the best player in the country, regardless of class?Yes. He can do so much on the floor, whatever you need him to do. In the championship game (a 44-27 victory over Curie), we didn't need him to score so he blocked shots and rebounded. He creates so much attention that the other team forgets about our other players and they get wide-open shots and are able to make plays. Against Peoria Manual, he took the game over (with 21 points and 12 rebounds).What did you learn about your team over the holidays?We aren't as disciplined as we need to be on offense and defense. That's not the Simeon Way. When I speak of discipline, it's running a set, doing basics, not catching the ball with two hands. We have a lot of loose ends to tighten up on. But we have to remember that they are only juniors and still are learning the game.What do you like about what you are seeing?How well we play defense. It probably is the best defensive team I've had. They really guard.What don't you like?How sometimes we get selfish. There is too much individual play. We get away from our team game. What is the Simeon Way? Smart, disciplined, loyal.Which player impressed you the most?Besides Jabari, Steve Taylor. After the championship, Jabari said Steve should have won the Williamson award. I think so, too. Steve stayed under control, rebounded, scored when we needed him to score and guarded the other team's best player (Curie's 6-9 Cliff Alexander was limited to one basket in the championship game). alex only got one basket). He played like a senior for the tournament.Who needs to step up?Jaleni Neely needs to get fully healthy. He still is recovering from a torn ACL. When he is on floor, we are a better team. He understands what I want. He has run it for four years. He is only 70-75 percent. If he can get to 85-90 percent, we will be all right.Are you settled on your starting lineup?No. Neely isn't starting. He only started the Peoria Manual game. Reggie Norris started in the final. Jaylon Tate has played well, too. He does well coming off the bench, playing 25-26 minutes a game. Tyre Washington and John Gardner need to get more minutes, to give Jabari and Steve some rest.How about your bench?The bench is fine. Some people assumed he would start after he transferred fro De La Salle. But he is coming off the bench. He made the decision when he came here. He understood we had Jeleni. He knew he wouldn't be starting. It shows how much he wants to be on this team and how much he wants to be coached. He has accepted his role. He is fine with it. He still
is learning.Any questions that are still unanswered?How good can we really be? We have to win games on the national level. We want to be respected by everybody besides people in Illinois. We play three national opponents out-of-town in the next three weeks. We have to win two of three. We play next Saturday against Miller Grove (Georgia) at Wheeling, West Virginia. They once were ranked No. 1 in the nation. Then we play Findlay Prep (Nevada), the nation's No. 4 team, in Springfield,
Massachusetts, on Jan. 16. Then we play Southwind, another nationally ranked team, in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 21.Have you had to make any adjustments while coaching the nation's top-ranked team?Yes. I had to let them be a lot more free on the offensive end. I had to change offense a bit. Because we haven't got a dominant center, I had to switch up the offense to get more motion and movement. We want to make the other team's big guys come out on the floor and have to guard Jabari and Steve.What do you think your mentor, the late Bob Hambric, would say about this team?He would say that they are undisciplined. He probably would sub out all five starters and put in five others. I think about it sometimes, too. But I also know we are still in a building stage so I let them go that way. We still are a work in progress. We are nowhere near where we need to be.What advice or change in strategy would Hambric give his former playerassistant?He would say we need to execute our offense. That was something he was big on, running sets all the way and not breaking them off when someone decides to go one-on-one.What date is circled on your calendar?Jan. 16 against Fendlay Prep. On paper, they are the best team in the country. They have so many good players. It would be a great thing for us to beat them. If Jabari and Steve play well, it will show we can play at that level with the talent we have.You have talked in the past about coaching in college. Are you thinking more seriously about that possibility?It has been on my mind a lot lately, more than ever before. People ask if I am getting bored. It isn't boring to win. It's as if I'm looking for a new challenge. If the right opportunity comes along, I'd have to look at it.You are opposed to the four-class format as it is today because you believe it negatively affects Public League schools, as the pre-1972 format did. How would you level the playing field?I don't know. But it has been on my mind for a long time ever since I saw the format as it is now. I talked to (Curie coach) Mike Oliver at the Pontiac tournament. Maybe me, Calvin Davis (director of Public League sports administration) and some other coaches need to sit down with (Illinois High School Association executive director) Marty Hickman and talk about the format. I don't know the answer to it. I know they have rules and we have to follow them. They set it up the best way they know how. Put us in any sectional and we might lose. But we are the attraction right now. Everywhere we go, there is a buzz. The same goes for Whitney Young and Curie. Public league schools should be broken up more and not be sent in the same direction. What is the logic in it? How is it divided? I don't know the answers to those questions. But I want to know. I don't want to talk about something I don't know anything about. I want to know why this is the way it is.How did you celebrate the New Year?With my wife Shaquetta and daughter Yahri and new-born son Robert, who was born Nov. 21. My wife cooked a salmon dinner. It was a quiet evening at home.

Preps recruiting: Illini add another 2017 piece

Preps recruiting: Illini add another 2017 piece

Illinois and head coach Lovie Smith added another piece to the Fighting Illini Class of 2017 late last night when Prospect two-star ranked offensive tackle Alex Palczewski (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) gave Illinois his verbal commitment.

"I felt extremely comfortable at Illinois," Palczewski told Orange and Blue News publisher Doug Buschon last night. "I know with Coach Lovie Smith there, that program is going to go sky high. We're going to win."

Palczewski, who flew under most recruiting radar screens missed his entire 2015 junior season because of an injury is now the 20th known verbal commitment in the Illinois Class of 2017 and the ninth known in-state commitment. 

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