By Michael Wojtychiw
In a fairy tale, the Simeon boys basketball team would hoist its first-place trophy after defeating its opponent in a thrilling Class 3A boys basketball championship game, sending off legendary coach Robert Smith into retirement as a seven-time state champion.
Smith, who already holds records for state and city championships with six and eight, respectively, was hoping to lead his senior-dominated team to one more victory in a state title game before heading off into retirement.
At halftime, it looked as if that fairy tale might come true with the Wolverines holding a nine-point lead. Unfortunately for Simeon, it was not its night, as Metamora would go on a 10-0 run to start the second half and see Sam Lewis miss a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in regulation before falling to the Redbirds for the second consecutive season, this time 46-42 in overtime.
For much of the year, Simeon has been in the post, using its height as an advantage over many other teams, thanks to the rubin twins who stand 6-foot-8 or taller.
That advantage didn’t play out like it had numerous times throughout the year, however, as Metamora outrebounded the Wolverines 35-21, including 10-3 on the offensive glass.
“The four games we lost, we got out-rebounded,” Smith said. “That was huge. There’s no reason we should be getting out-rebounded. They made some hustle plays and in the third quarter, they really started hitting the glass.
“We took a timeout to talk about it, but they were really relentless. Their guards really rebounded well.”
“The first half, we couldn’t get an offensive rebound for anything and I told the guys ‘We’re not going to outjump anybody, you better get inside and try to get them off your back,’ and our kids did a good job of that in the second half,” Metamora coach Danny Grieves said.
After the Redbirds closed to a one-point deficit at the end of the first quarter, Simeon started the second period on a 9-0 run to take a 21-11 lead before Ethan Kizer hit a three with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining until the half.
Those three points would be the only ones that Metamora would score in the quarter, while the Wolverines would add another basket before the half to go up 23-14 after two quarters.
The Redbirds stormed out of the halftime break on a 10-0 run and the teams would trade blows until Tyson Swanson hit a basket with 2:23 remaining to give Metamora the lead for good.
“I just told them that we have to stick with the game plan,” Grieves said. “A couple things went awry but we buckled down the way we needed to. It was the same thing [against East St. Louis]. We have to go ahead and stay with the plan.”
Smith ends his career as one of the most successfu coaches in Illinois basketball history.
The former Simeon player finished his career with a 512-89 record, including championships in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, as well as three second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a fourth-place finish last season as well.
“It was a great season,” Smith said. “What I hate is that at Simeon when you don’t win the championship it feels like you didn’t do anything. It just hurts when that is the precedent we set as a school.”
Jalen Griffith scored 15 for Simeon and Miles Rubin added 12 points and six rebounds.
As the press conference ended, Smith was asked about looking back to the beginning of his career and trying to put it all into perspective, something that choked the longtime coach up.
“I had a vision that I could do something like this but this is not what I saw,” Smith said. “This is solely from God. This has been a great run. I appreciate everything, the parents who have trusted me with their kids. When I look back at this in two weeks [I’ll feel] something different. Right now, I’m just in the moment.”
As Simeon Coach Robert Smith Retires, Some Colleagues Reflect on His Impact on Illinois High School Basketball
By Dominic Scianna
It would be easy to write an epitaph of Simeon head coach Robert Smith’s stellar career accomplishments. The remarkable 500-plus wins, 6 state championships, 14 IHSA sectionals, and 8 Chicago Public League city championships.
And as his 2022-23 season came to a close on March 11 with his impending retirement creeping closer, his Wolverines were capping off a 32-4 season falling just short of a seventh Illinois High School Association boys state championship. The end would come at the hands of Metamora High School for a second year in a row but this time it was for the Class 3A title.
But those extraordinary statistics and accolades do not entirely define Robert Smith, the man, whose character, work ethic, and drive have been unmatched for close to two decades (19 seasons) on the Wolverines sidelines.
In this writing, we talk to some of his opponents, colleagues, and players who give us a rare glimpse into the man that close friends call “Smitty”, and how his legacy in Illinois high school basketball will forever be remembered.
“He’s been a great influencer of young people and shaped a lot of young men over that time. He’s got a storied career and tremendous success, but he’s probably saved a number of lives with all that he’s done as a basketball coach and teacher. He’s unique in his own special way and is so down to earth and charismatic. It’s hard to see him go but we wish him the very best.”
-Craig Anderson, Executive Director, Illinois High School Association
“When I first starting out in coaching, I purposely went to see a Simeon game. I learned a lot and was so impressed with Coach Smith. It was a privilege watching his teams play and getting a chance to coach against him. Other’s may come along and have the kind success he’s had in his career but there will only be one Rob Smith. He’s going to be missed.”
-Matt Monroe, Head Varsity Basketball Coach, St. Ignatius College Prep
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Rob and the one thing I’ve noticed, and you only need to walk into his office to understand it, is his loyalty and support of current and former players. His walls are lined with pictures of his players, and most come back to see him, which says a lot about the impact he’s made in their lives. In my mind, there’s only one word to describe him and that word is winner.”
-Kenny McReynolds, Longtime Chicago High School Sportscaster with over 2,500+ broadcasts
“He’s (Rob Smith) is a class act. Always has been. This guy is the dean of coaches in the State of Illinois and not just Chicago. I have great respect I for him and it touched my heart and meant a great deal to me to come out and congratulate us after the game (IHSA Class 3A state championship won by Metamora 46-42 in overtime). He’s the guy and I hate to see him go out with a loss, but I sure didn’t want to see him go out with a win against us.”
-Danny Grieves, Head Varsity Basketball Coach, Metamora High School
“Coach is a funny guy sometimes when he tries to get us to understand things during practice. He’s been like a father figure to me and I’ve enjoyed playing for him.”
-Jalen Griffith, senior point guard, Simeon High School (who will be attending Jacksonville University in the fall of 2023).
And as Coach Rob Smith teared up and ended his press conference he had one final thing to say. “That’s all, Y’all” to a chorus of applause from the press in a packed media room.
A fitting end to what is surely an Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame career that won’t soon be forgotten.