Simeon coach Robert Smith, the most successful boys high school basketball coach in state history, will retire after next season.
“I want to spend more time with my kids,” Smith said. “They are both playing basketball now and I want to be able to give them my full attention. I’ve spent the last 24 years giving all my attention to other people’s kids.”
Smith is closing in on 500 wins and has won a record six state titles and seven city titles.
“I’ve completed my goals,” Smith said. “I wanted to have the most state and city championships and I’ve done that. I wanted 500 wins and hopefully I can get that next year. The only thing I didn’t get a chance is to win a national championship and that’s because the [Illinois High School Association] won’t allow us to compete for that.”
Smith’s debut as a high school coach, back in December of 2004, is one of the city’s legendary high school basketball moments. It was Derrick Rose’s debut.
“It was sold out at Curie and no one came to see me,” Smith said. “It was great to have Derrick and Tim [Flowers]to help jump start my career. I always tell people that [legendary Simeon coach Bog Hambric] could have stayed and coached those guys and won more titles himself. But he wanted me to be successful, he wanted me to get off to a good start. So that actually took a lot of pressure off of me.”
Sun-Times file photo
Over the next 18 years, Smith took the program to new heights. It wasn’t just city and state championships. Smith’s program produced multiple NBA players: Rose, Jabari Parker, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and more.
“[Smith] trusted his players, that’s what was special about him,” Parker said. “He made sure that we were confident. We only watched film when it was necessary. Most of the time we worked on our weaknesses. We were always synchronized and organized.”
Smith, who is Simeon’s athletic director, will hand the head coaching job over to Flowers, Rose’s good friend and former teammate. Flowers is currently an assistant coach at Simeon.
“[Flowers] has the passion,” Smith said. “He loves Simeon like I did. He’s eager and wants to learn. He understands basketball and is good with the kids.”
Smith, 50, is 480-92 heading into his final season. Winning 84% of the games he’s coached is even more impressive when you factor in the strength of schedule.
The Wolverines have traveled everywhere, from California to New York and even Dubai. Smith played the best teams in the country and back home had to deal with the Public League’s “superconference” which combined the top teams from the Red-South and Red-Central every season.
Smith’s run at Simeon coincided with the Public League’s most successful run of state titles.
“There was a group that helped get us to another level,” Smith said. “Competing against coaches like [Young’s] Tyrone Slaughter, Mike Oliver at Curie and Nick Irvin [at Morgan Park] just gave us a different vibe. People think we don’t like each other but that isn’t the case. All of us just wanted to win. That made it so much better.”
Smith’s early success at Simeon attracted the city’s best players to his program. Parker had his choice of schools across the country but chose Simeon.
“All the best players wanted to come to Simeon because of Coach Rob,” Parker said. “You started seeing the change across the city during [Smith’s time]. Most of the talent went to Public League schools and players stopped going to Catholic schools.”
Smith says that out of the hundreds of varsity basketball players he’s coached since 2004, just three or four didn’t go to college.
“And that’s because they had other plans,” Smith said. “Getting the kids to college was always very important. Things don’t always work out, but we put the kids in a position to succeed and colleges new that our kids would work hard.”
Smith’s last team at Simeon will be strong. Miles and Wes Rubin, 6-8 twins, will be joined by talented guards Jalen Griffith and Michael Ratliff. The Wolverines could be the area’s preseason No. 1 team.
“This last year will be the same as any other,” Smith said. “We want to win city and state. There’s no added pressure because that is always the focus. I was able to tell the kids about my decision today. I wanted them to hear it from me and not read it somewhere.”
Smith, a Simeon graduate, nearly took an assistant job at Loyola under Porter Moser in 2017. He decided to return to Simeon instead and watched the Ramblers head to the Final Four.
“College coaching is always something I wanted to do,” Smith said. “But I’m not sure about doing that whole grind now. A local school could possibly be good for me because the big thing right now is to be with my kids.”
Robert Smith’s career at Simeon
2005-06: 33-4, Class AA title, Public League title
2006-07: 33-2, Class AA title, Public League title
2007-08: 29-4, Class 3A second place
2009-10: 25-9, Class 4A title
2010-11: 30-2, Class 4A title
2011-12: 33-1, Class 4A title, Public League title
2012-13: 30-3, Class 4A title
2015-16: 30-4, Public League title
2016-17: 30-4, Class 4A second place, Public League title
2017-18: 29-4, Public League title
2019-20: 24-9, Public League title
Total: 480-92, .839