High school basketball: Simeon coach Robert Smith prepares for his final season

Simeon coach Robert Smith announced his retirement from coaching back in May, so he’s had some time to prepare for the emotions that will likely crop up over the next few months.

“Certain games and places are definitely going to be more emotional than others,” Smith said. “I really want it to be about the kids and not about me. That’s how it has always been.”

Smith, 50, is closing in on 500 wins and has won six state titles and seven city titles, both records. He’s 480-92 heading into his final season.

“Right now it feels like I’m done,” Smith said. “There is nothing else I can accomplish at this level. Especially in Illinois because you can’t play for a national championship. What else would I be able to do? I wanted to make sure I left on my own terms.”

Smith’s first game as the Wolverines’ head coach was Derrick Rose’s highly-anticipated debut. Almost no one paid any attention to the rookie head coach. Smith’s Rose-led teams won back-to-back Class AA state titles in 2006 and 2007.

Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn spearheaded Smith’s teams that won four consecutive Class 4A state championships from 2010 to 2013.

The Wolverines headed to Champaign as heavy favorites to win the Class 3A state title last season but lost to Metamora in the semifinals.

Simeon had an eight-point lead with just five minutes to play.

“Down the stretch I got outcoached,” Smith said. “[Metamora coach Danny Grieves] did a great job. We switched from a zone defense to man and they exploited that.”

Smith said senior guard Aviyon Morris urged him to stick with the zone defense during a timeout.

“If I had listened to him we probably win that game,” Smith said. “Those are the things you think about as a coach. Sometimes you have to listen to the guys that are out there playing.”

Robert Smith coaching his first game, Simeon vs. Thornwood at Curie in 2004. It was also Derrick Rose’s debut.

Sun-Times file photo

Smith’s humbleness and openness kept him relatable to kids over the years. Early on as head coach he slowly relaxed Simeon’s strict ban on players talking to the media.

Smith played for Bob Hambric at Simeon and was a longtime assistant coach under Hambric. That tradition will continue. Tim Flowers, a current assistant coach for the Wolverines, will take over as coach next season.

Flowers was Rose’s running mate on the two state championship teams.

“[Flowers] is a great leader,” Simeon senior Wes Rubin said. “That transition is going to go really well. Tim is tough on us because he wants to see us do well. And he can get out there and practice with us. He’s still tough to guard.”

Smith’s next move is to focus on fatherhood. Both of his children are talented basketball players.

“I kind of got a feel for retirement this spring and summer,” Smith said. “I didn’t spend much time with the team. I was driving my kids to practices and traveling around to watch their games.”

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