Simeon's Smith: I want the Illini job

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Simeon's Smith: I want the Illini job

After winning five IHSA state titles, more than any other coach in Illinois history, Simeon head coach Robert Smith has his eyes set on a loftier goal -- filling the recently vacated head coaching position at the University of Illinois.

Thats something I would definitely be interested in if the opportunity presented itself, said Smith on Thursday before the schools championship pep rally.

But hes not just interested. When asked if he was actively pursuing the position, the usually stone-faced Smith cracked a smile before admitting he is indeed making an effort to make it known that he wants the job. Despite winning five titles in seven years, and fostering the development (both on and off the court) of some of the most talented players in the country, there is a contingent who feels Smiths success at the high school level doesnt merit a promotion to the collegiate level.

A lot of people say youve been in high school so long, but I run this like a college already. Its not a typical high school, as you can see argued Smith. Ive coached some great kids, Ive had some talent, so I understand how to coach talent.

Some talent is a bit of an understatement. Smith won his first two titles in 2006 and 2007 with the help of future number one pick Derrick Rose. He brought in the last three with the help of the nations top junior, Jabari Parker, along with top Illinois senior and Marquette-bound Steve Taylor.

While there are plenty of arguments both for and against how Smiths high school success would translate to the next level, theres one trait he carries that few others in the country can claim as strongly as he can -- a deep and rich connection with the Chicago basketball community thats needed to keep the states best players from leaving to play college ball out of state.

The state of Illinois has produced a bevy of supremely talented players over the past several years, but few have decided to stick around. Jon Scheyer, Sherron Collins, Derrick Rose, D.J. Cooper, Anthony Davis, Iman Shumpert, Ryan Boatright, Wayne Blackshearthats just a tiny sample of the number of athletes who call the state of Illinois home, but went on to attend schools like Duke and Kentucky. Smith feels that if hes given the opportunity, he can reopen the pipeline from Chicago to Champaign and keep the states best players at home.

Youve got to have good relationships. To Smith, its that simple. You have to be able to get into the communities, not just the players and the parents. The community has to feel comfortable with you as well, so when theyre talking up Illinois, the community is talking up Illinois as well. If youre a great player, theyre saying you should go to Illinois. You dont hear that inside the communities.

Smith thinks a lack of Chicago connections is one of the likely culprits behind Shaka Smarts Illini denial. Its kind of tough when youre not from the town, you dont know the town, and you get the negative stuff from everybody else, but Im here, I see it, and I know it.

You dont have to go far to see just how vital this connection could be. Jabari Parker, who many feel is the top overall player in the country as a junior, said hes keeping a close eye on whats happening with Coach Smith and the illini.

I pay attention pretty much a lot, because that would be a future coach I would be interested in playing for. If they happen to recruit me, then I have to do my research as a player to see where I can fit in their system.

Parker went on to say that even though the Illini are currently coach-less, hes still interested in the school because representing his home state is important to him, and if Smith were to get the job, it would be special. Steve Taylor, who committed to Marquette in the fall and is regarded as one of the top senior forwards in the country, echoed Parkers comments and said he thinks Smith would be a good fit.

The University of Illinois doesnt really get kids from Chicago, said Taylor. If Coach Rob was to get that job, he would be able to bring in a lot of talent from Illinois.

Junior guard Jaylon Tate continued the praise, adding, Hes an amazing coach. Hes a good disciplinary person. Hes just a good person. Hes a real good coach. I think at any level hell be a great coach.

The discipline Tate speaks of starts simply with keeping players in a routine during an extremely rigorous season (the Wolverines played as far away as Springfield, Massachusetts), but also means Smith knows when to punish his players for violating team rules. After nine players left their shoes on the court after defeating Proviso East for the 4A title, Smith promptly suspended them for the first game of next season. In February, Smith suspended five players for two crucial games during the teams run in the Chicago Public League playoffs. He commands respect from his players, they give it to him unflinchingly, and more often than not it turns into state titles.

With his ability to keep players in line (perhaps he could have been the mentor Jereme Richmond needed) and his deep roots in the Chicago Public League, Smith at least deserves to be in the conversation for a position at Illinois in some capacity. Its unclear, however, if he would be willing to accept a position as an assistant. Either way, Smith has made it clear that he is confident he has the tools and the know-how to restore the waning Illini basketball program.

As Smith himself put it, Lets take a chance on this guy and see what could happen.

In The Loop: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers

In The Loop: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers

The Blackhawks went 9-1 in February and did so in emphatic fashion.

The Blackhawks outscored their opponents 44-24 in the month and scored four goals or more in each of the nine wins. The only loss came after the team's bye week, a 3-1 loss at home to Edmonton seven days after winning 5-1 in Edmonton.

A big reason for the Blackhawks' recent surge is because of the production of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Toews scored seven goals and had 11 assists in February and was named the league's second star of the week this week. Patrick Kane had nine goals and seven assists.

Scott Darling went 3-0 in his starts and gave up just four goals in those games. Corey Crawford went 6-1 with a 2.71 goals against average.

Despite the Blackhawks' success in February, the Minnesota Wild still lead the division. The Blackhawks beat the Wild twice in February, but the Wild went 7-2 in the rest of February, including tonight's 5-4 overtime win against the LA Kings to sit three points ahead of the Blackhawks and still with two games in hand.

Watch the video above to see Pat Boyle break down these Blackhawks numbers.

Fire putting finishing touches on roster as season nears

Fire putting finishing touches on roster as season nears

The preseason has finished and it's officially a match week for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire, which travel to Columbus on Saturday for the season opener, returned from preseason training in Florida on Sunday and began the team's first full day back in Chicago with the team's annual kickoff luncheon on Monday. The team's players, coaches and staff interact with fans and the media ahead of the upcoming season.

Two players, UNC-Charlotte products Brandt Bronico and Matej Dekovic, were introduced to the audience a couple hours before the club announced the two 2017 draft picks had signed contracts. Bronico, a central midfielder drafted in the third round, and Dekovic, a center back/left back taken in the fourth round, both signed one-year deals with club options for the following three years.

Dekovic could add some much needed depth in central defense, but is a logical candidate to go out on loan to USL affiliate Tulsa. Dekovic, 23, is Croatian and counts as an international player even though he played three years collegiately with the 49ers. The Fire have nine international players on the roster with eight slots for them. The Fire could trade for an international slot, but if Dekovic goes out on loan he won't count against that number. Coach Veljko Paunovic was asked about potential outgoing loans, but didn't give specifics other than to say they have "made some decisions" and "are still working on that."

Bronico and Dekovic don't figure to play major roles this season, but there could still be more moves ahead. The lone trialist in the final week of the Fire's training camp, former Columbus Crew defender Chad Barson, was not retained. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Ryan Taylor will be the latest right back to join the Fire on trial. Taylor, 32, made 55 English Premier League appearances with Wigan Athletic from 2005-2009 and 61 more with Newcastle United from 2009-2015. This season he has made 12 appearances for Port Vale in England's third tier, the most recent of which on Jan. 20 when he scored a penalty kick.

[RELATED: Fire players downplay importance of undefeated preseason record]

"Ryan Taylor will join us this week," Rodriguez said. "He's a very experienced player, he plays a lot of different positions, which we like. We like that versatility. We love the attitude that he's expressed towards coming on trial, which is not easy for an accomplished player. We'll look at him this week, maybe look at him for two weeks. I don't know how long it will take, but he is an option for us."

The Englishman would also take up an international slot.

A potentially bigger move is the one Rodriguez hinted at regarding a third designated player. Currently, David Accam and Nemanja Nikolic are the Fire's two DPs, meaning one more DP spot is available.

"We have the latitude, we have the cap space, the budget space and the resources within MLS and within our ownership to add another DP," Rodriguez said. "We've looked at a few players. Two of the players that we had on our list, we didn't make offers for so I want to be clear the two players we were tracking, one signed in Mexico with a big club in Mexico and one went to China for big money so they're off our list.

"There are still two players that we're tracking. I think as we get deeper into the start of the season, even though the first window is open, it's tougher. I would say we would likely look at the summer, or, as we did last year, forego the summer and concentrate on January. I still think it's hard to integrate players midseason."