Simeon coach Robert Smith realizes he’s an unlikely candidate to be Illinois’ next basketball coach.
High school coaches rarely make the jump to becoming college head coaches, especially at the high-major level. But Smith believes he’s worth at least a look because he can provide the Illini with something they’ve struggled to get in recent years -- Chicago’s premier players.
“One thing they haven’t done is keep the top players at home,” Smith said. “People say it’s very hard. I think it’s not very hard if you have a plan. I’ve developed relationships with the players and parents. My track record proves what I can do at a program and where I can put it.”
Chicago’s biggest target for nearly every high-major coach in the country right now is one of Smith’s own players, Simeon forward Jabari Parker, who is ranked the No. 1 junior in the country. If Smith was Illinois coach, he believes he could land Parker.
“I think my chances would be good,” said Smith, who is not interested in an assistant job with the Illini. “I think they would be better than any coach in America simply because of the relationship I have with Jabari and his family. What I’ve learned about them is it’s about trust and relationships. It’s not about how many national championships and games you’ve won. It’s about trust with their son. Our trust is very high.”
Smith, who has a bachelor's degree from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, has proved he can win at the high school level and produce college players. He has a 227-37 record and won four state championships in eight years at Simeon. The Wolverines are nationally ranked this season with a 30-1 record and are the favorites to win their third consecutive Class 4A state title.
Derrick Rose is Smith’s most notable player, but he’s also coached a number of players who have gone on to play college basketball at high-major programs. UCLA guard Lazeric Jones, Kansas State guard Jeremy Jones and Memphis forward Stan Simpson all played for Smith. Simeon’s current roster also includes senior Steve Taylor, who is headed to Marquette, and junior Kendrick Nunn, who is among the country’s top juniors.
“I know it’s a long shot for the job because you look at history,” Smith said. “But when you match up what I have compared to other guys, I have a lot to offer. I think I can put the program back where it was with Nick Anderson and Kenny Battle. I think I can get the guys to stay home, and I think that team could be one of the top 5, top 10 teams in the country.”