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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.

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

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NBC SPORTS

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

Kendall Gill can add another bullet point to his resume.

NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls analyst was announced as a member of the University of Illinois' Athletics Hall of Fame for the Class of 2018. Gill enters in the same class as his coach at Illinois, Lou Henson, and former Bulls broadcaster Johnny "Red" Kerr.

Gill was a part of Illinois' 1989 Final Four team and earned consensus Second-Team All-America honors the following year as a senior when he led the Big Ten in scoring (20 points per game). He is third in program history in steals with 218.

He went on to have a 15-year NBA career, which included a stint with the Bulls.

Last year was the inaugural class for Illinois' hall of fame.

Recruiting news and notes: Lincoln-Way East's AJ Henning piling up major offers

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HUDL

Recruiting news and notes: Lincoln-Way East's AJ Henning piling up major offers

Lincoln-Way East sophomore athlete recruit AJ Henning (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) continues to pile up the major Power 5 scholarship offers this winter including his latest from Stanford on Wednesday.

"Stanford offered me a scholarship today (Wednesday)," Henning said. "I have thirteen scholarship offers so far and it's pretty amazing to have opportunities from such great schools and football programs."

Henning, who was a key performer in leading the Griffins to the 2017 Class 8A state championship run has been taking all of the recruiting attention and offers in stride.

"My family and I talk about recruiting a little bit but it's not really that pressing for me," he said. "I still have two years left of high school so I'm really not in any rush."

Henning, who plans to visit Notre Dame on March 3 is now holding early scholarship offers from Central Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Miami of Ohio, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State, Stanford, Syracuse and Western Michigan.

Oswego East junior defensive back recruit Justin Clark (6-foot, 180 pounds) has also seen a nice spike in his overall recruiting stock this winter. Clark has been able to add six scholarship offers along with recruiting attention from several Big Ten programs.

"I have offers now from NIU, Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio, Iowa State, Toledo and Ohio University," according to Clark. "I've also been staying in touch with Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa and Purdue. Northwestern is waiting on my test score and they seem pretty interested. Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota all want me to come out and visit them on campus and the same goes for all the schools who have offered me."

Clark, who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety, cornerback as well as return kicks and punts and also punted for Oswego East being recruiting to play at what position in college so far?

"So far the majority of schools are recruiting me to play safety," Clark said. "I'm very open when it comes to position and I also love to return kicks and punts. I just like to be as versatile of a player as I can for my team."

Batavia junior linebacker Michael Jansey Jr. (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) has continued to remain on several college recruiting radar screens this winter and Jansey Jr. has also seen his offers list grow.

"It seems like my recruiting is all starting to come together really well," Jansey Jr. said. "My latest offers from from Miami of Ohio, Kent State, Eastern Kentucky, Cornell and Wyoming."

Jansey Jr, has also remained in steady contact with several Big Ten schools this winter.

"I'm also in touch with Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska," he said. "Also some of the SEC schools are starting to follow me on Twitter. It's just pretty exciting and my recruiting is really starting to all coming together."

Jansey Jr. has early scholarship offers now from Central Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Illinois State, Iowa State, Western Michigan, Princeton, Cornell, Kent State, Miami of Ohio, Wyoming, Illinois State and Eastern Kentucky.

One of the better stories in the Class of 2019 in Chicagoland has to be Jacobs junior offensive tackle Joacheim Price (6-foot-8, 310 pounds). Price, who has been a mainstay on the Golden Eagles basketball team since his freshman year had never played football until last June. Price is now holding early offers from the likes of Illinois, West Virginia, Iowa State and Northern Illinois this winter. 

"The first time in summer football workouts I didn't know how to get into a stance," Price said. "I had to stay over after every practice that summer just to work on getting into a stance. I also had to learn all of the plays and also learn technique. I just hung in there and kept working and started to gain more and more confidence."