Robert Smith is the head men's basketball coach at Chicago Simeon High School in Illinois. Smith is coaching one of the nation's top preps, Derrick Rose, a 5-star recruit and ranked as the nation's 2nd best point guard in the class of 2007.
Smith was told why the interview was being done - the fact that Sherron Collins picked Kansas over Illinois and from a high school coach's perspective, maybe shed some light on the issue.
"It's the Big Ten. No question about it. It's their style of play kids just don't want to be in. I mean, look at a Wisconsin game where their scores are something like 42-40. Who wants to play that kind of basketball? Our kids don't," Smith said.
For years the national media has taken its shots at the Big Ten for that reason. I asked Mr. Smith then how do you explain last year's final four that included two Big Ten teams playing? "That's because Illinois and Michigan State are the only two schools in that conference that play the way other conferences do and for that reason alone they will get players; but the rest of the league? No way. You tell me right now how many true top 100 high school players committed to the Big Ten? I can only think of two: Ohio State's Mike Conley and Greg Oden. That's it," said Smith.
"These players are not stupid. They want to play against the best competition available and that means playing in the Big 12, ACC or Pac Ten. And these guys all know each other. They want to go to schools where there's some talent there with them. How do you think OSU did that? Derrick Rose will be the same way. He doesn't want to go to a school and be "the man". He wants a good supporting cast around him," added Smith.
The way to make relationships with kids is through the AAU events. These kids are all friends and they talk; they know what's going on and who's going where. Most coaches, if they are doing their jobs, will tell the kids the truth about things that sometimes the schools don't tell.
Last Friday night Illinois hosted its Midnight Madness and Rose attended it on an unofficial visit. According to Smith he really liked it a lot, but at the same time he was watching who else was there.
Most Illinois fans underestimated current and former Illini Coach Bill Self's recruiting abilities, but I don't think that's an issue anymore. A current Big Ten assistant coach at another institution, who asked to remain anonymous, had this to say: "Bill Self is good. The coaches in Chicago love him, and he's smooth and knows the game. Bill's the kind of guy that can go into the clubs in Chicago and fit in right now and not miss a beat. Weber on the other hand, is a coach and a damn good one. No one can argue that, but what you see is what you get."
Maybe the national media is right about the Big Ten. I'm sure the coaches in its league would argue because Wisconsin was one win away from making it three Big Ten schools at the Final Four. But for right now, the coaches and the public relations departments better start to do some serious damage control because the nation's top players are looking elsewhere and the word "loyalty" doesn't mean a thing at this point.