Bulls

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson reflect on the passing of an NBA icon, Kobe Bryant.

0:30 - Reaction to Kobe's passing on Sunday

18:00 - More discussion about Kobe Bryant and his impact on the league

25:00 - The guys favorite memories of Kobe Bryant

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

Denzel Valentine is beloved throughout the Bulls’ locker room. It takes only a brief sweep around to glean that.

“I love playing with Denzel, that's my guy,” Kris Dunn said. “No matter what, that's my guy. He know[s] that.”

No matter what.

“Man, Denzel is a true professional,” Zach LaVine said. “We're thankful to have him on this team, I think any team would love to have him. He's someone that is beneficial to us because he's gotten put in a tough situation where he came off the bench, and he's a player that's a regular rotation guy.”

Any team would love to have him.

“They show a lot of support, man, it's just crazy. We have a really good, close-knit team,” Valentine said of his teammates. “Zach — he's been a really good help in this situation. Talking to me every day. Coby [White], Kris, I can go down the line of everybody that's a part of it, so. I got blessed, man, I'm on a really good team with really good teammates.”

Let’s rewind. Valentine logged his fourth-highest minutes total of the season (19:06) on Monday, tied his season-high for scoring (16 points) and played crucial, crunch-time minutes in one of these Bulls’ most memorable victories — a 110-109 squeak-by over the San Antonio Spurs on a night the late Kobe Bryant was commemorated from start to finish. 

Valentine added three assists, four rebounds and four 3-pointers, as well.

“I thought Denzel was terrific. He's kept himself ready and came in and helped us win a game,” coach Jim Boylen said.

It can’t have been easy keeping the rust off. After missing all of last season due to ankle reconstruction surgery, Valentine is averaging by far his lowest minutes per game this season while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range. He has been phased in and out of the rotation on multiple occasions.

“That's my job as a professional, to stay ready and play when called upon,” Valentine said of how he endures with playing time not a given.

In four games which Valentine has played more than 19 minutes this season, he averages 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 50/44/100 shooting splits. The Bulls are 3-1 in said contests.

“Playing winning basketball,” Valentine said on what he brings when given opportunity. “Whether that's scoring, passing, playing defense, rebounding. Just whatever I can do to affect the game. People always want to look at my shots, but I think I impact the game in a lot of different ways. I think my defense is underrated, and I impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

Valentine said he’s excited to continue to prove himself with advanced opportunity likely in the near future. Thad Young’s insertion into the starting lineup with Lauri Markkanen out for at least the next month opens a gaping need for scoring off the bench. Since Markkanen went down, Valentine is averaging 13.8 minutes per game. Before then, he hadn’t played more than seven since logging 16 minutes in a blowout loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 30. 

But tonight, he was instrumental to a victory. Of his four 3-pointers, two came in the fourth quarter as the Bulls were clawing their way back from, at one point, a 10-point deficit. 

“He brings that. Scoring, another playmaker. You know, when Denzel get rolling, you get to see a different player in him,” Dunn said. “He has that same mentality that I have in the sense of — you know, just go out there and do whatever you can do to win.”

Valentine is beloved throughout the locker room.

“That's not up to him, to play his minutes. He came in, and he's the biggest reason why we won the game I think,” LaVine said. “I think he was 6-for-10, he had 16 points in [19] minutes. You know, high-IQ player, playing on and off the ball, so it was big and I appreciate having him as my teammate.

“Denzel has some of the highest respect in the locker room, we know who he is as a player, and as a person.”

But are his teammates hinting at something? Trade speculation has swirled around Valentine with the deadline impending and the Bulls’ role for him undefined. Now, though, the team’s need for him is evident, given their short-handedness. 

The waters are muddy, but all there is to know for sure is this: All parties have remained and will remain professional.

Time will tell the rest.

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