Robert Smith loses his final game as Metamora beats Simeon for 3A title

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CHAMPAIGN—Simeon is a brand name, the gold standard of Chicago high school basketball. It is Coca-Cola, Apple and the Yankees.

That’s because of Robert Smith.

The legendary Simeon coach won’t take credit for it, deferring to Bob Hambric. Smith took over from Hambric in 2004. He played for Hambric at Simeon and was an assistant coach for the South Side basketball icon.

Hambric, who won three city titles and one state title, did things the “Simeon way.” Players didn’t talk to the media or college coaches. Freshmen didn’t play on varsity.

Hambric laid the foundation, but Smith took Simeon to the next level of success: six state titles and eight city titles. Both are records.

Along the way, Smith slowly changed Simeon. Player interviews began after a couple of seasons and freshmen appeared on varsity. He brought the program into the present while managing to keep the mystique that made it special.

Hambric retired with Rose and Flowers ready to help Smith lead the program to glory. Smith eventually built his own dynasty, led by Jabari Parker.

But no one can win them all.

Saturday at State Farm Center, Smith’s Wolverines came up short, losing the Class 3A state title 46-42 in overtime to Metamora.

Simeon had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Sam Lewis couldn’t get a corner three to fall. Metamora took the lead early in overtime and held on to win.

“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. The Wolverines were outrebounded 35-21 despite a significant size advantage.

Smith finishes his career 512-89 in 18 years, with state championships in 2006 (AA), 2007 (AA), 2010 (4A), 2011 (4A), 2012 (4A) and 2013 (4A). 

Smith coached in one other Class 3A final, losing to Marshall in 2008.

The Wolverines (32-4) led 23-14 at halftime but Metamora charged back in the third quarter to lead by one. It was back and forth from there until the overtime.

The Redbirds took the lead for good on a basket in the post from senior Tyson Swanson with 2:23 left in overtime. Swanson also hit two free throws under a second left to seal the win. He led the Redbirds (34-2) with 20 points and Tyler Mason added 16.

Like Smith, Swanson is retiring from basketball.

“I haven’t completely made my mind up, but I probably won’t play in college,” Swanson said.

Metamora beat Simeon in the semifinals last season and then lost to Sacred Heart Griffin in the title game. Both teams returned the majority of their teams.

Smith waited for Metamora to get their medals after the game and then congratulated and hugged Redbirds coach Danny Grieves.

“He’s the dean of coaches in the state of Illinois, not just Chicago,” Grieves said. “It meant the world to me, it touched my heart for him to come out and congratulate us.”

Smith teared up near the end of the postgame press conference, struggling to put a life’s work into perspective while mourning a devasting loss.

“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.”

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