Bears

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.

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

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USA Today

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

A year ago, had the Bears come within one yard of tying the New England Patriots in a game in which they allowed two special teams touchdowns, the vibe in the Solider Field locker room might’ve been different. Sort of like, hey, that was pretty good that we were able to hang with one of the league's best teams and nearly tie and/or beat them despite our own mistakes. 

The operative term, then, after Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots may be confident frustration. The Bears know they’re a good team, better than they’ve had in recent memory. And that makes losing a game this team felt it was close to winning that much more frustrating. 

“We still had confidence last year that we could go in and win games (last year), but I would say this year we know what type of team we have,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We know we got a quarterback that’s developing and throwing the ball down the field really well. We know we have a great wide receiver corps. We know we have rushers that can get to the quarterback. We have a really good team and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on that big play momentum and finish games out.”

Perhaps this is a picture of a talented team still trying to figure out how to win. The Bears’ defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 8.8 yards per play in the fourth quarter and allowed 6.5 yards per play in the final 15 minutes Sunday, including a critical 96-yard touchdown drive. 

And while Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary to Kevin White came up one yard short, that the Bears were even in that situation to begin with was the problem. New England was able to chew up 3:49 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bears' offense with 24 seconds remaining. Get a stop earlier and the Bears might not have to rely on a nearly-converted heave with time expiring to tie the game. 

“In games like this, your room for error is slim in all phases,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “No matter what we did (well), there are still a couple things that we have to clean up against a team like that."

The Bears’ defense is remaining confident despite scant pressure on Brady — he was sacked once (by Roquan Smith) and hit only three times (by Smith, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris). Khalil Mack barely showed up on the stat sheet, registering only one tackle while being dropped into coverage far more frequently than he made an impact as a pass rusher. How much he was affected by his injured ankle, or how much defensive coordinator Vic Fangio felt he had to gameplan around it, is unclear (Mack did not speak to the media following the game). 

Leonard Floyd, too, was picked on by Brady, who frequently got the ball out quick in a successful effort to mitigate a pass rush that’s struggled to make an impact after recording 18 sacks in four games to begin the year. But the confidence is still there, despite seemingly few reasons for optimism since the second half in Miami kicked off last weekend. 

“We definitely don’t feel like (we’ve hit a wall),” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s probably the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now. We just gotta come in, we left some things on the field, we left some plays on the field. Like I said, it’s tough trying to put this one behind you but, you know, it’s a long season. We’re not getting down on ourselves, we’re still going to play with confidence. That confidence is still there.” 

Games against two of the league’s worst offenses in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then, should help the Bears’ defensive production match its confidence, if that line of thinking is to be believed. But as the first four games of the season get farther and farther in the rearview mirror, this is a defense that has to prove itself again in the coming weeks. 

“(The Patriots) came to play all together, and not saying we didn’t but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “It’s on us. Defense, we got it though. We’re not worried about it. It’s another game we lost. We got how many other games, we got 10 games left? Yeah. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think anybody is.”

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.