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After 19 years and 500 wins, legendary Simeon basketball coach aims to go out on top

After 19 years and 500 wins, legendary Simeon basketball coach aims to go out on top
After 19 years and 500 wins, legendary Simeon basketball coach aims to go out on top 02:53

CHICAGO (CBS) – The most successful boys high school basketball coach in Illinois history is getting set to step down.

CBS 2's Matt Zahn had the story on why Simeon Career Academy's leader decided now is the right time.

Robert Smith and Simeon are chasing another Chicago Public League championship. While he's still clearly on top of his game when it comes to coaching at a high level, he's decided this is his last season. Knowing he'd hit another career milestone this season helped make the decision a little easier.

There wasn't much Robert Smith hadn't accomplished in his 19-year career at Simeon Career Academy. He checked off the final box on his coaching to-do list with the Wolverines' win over Brooks, Smith's 500th win as a head coach.

"When I started this, my goal was to have the most city championships and the most state championships and I accomplished those goals a couple of years ago," Smith said. "And then the 500 (wins) was the last piece of the puzzle."

The 500th win was a nice addition to a resume that includes seven Chicago Public League championships and six state titles at Simeon. Having accomplished so much is part of the reason Smith decided that this season, his 19th, would be his last.

Smith is stepping down at the end of the year.

"I just thought it was time," he said. "I watched some other guys stick around too long. I'm giving another guy a chance."

Smith added that he has his own kids playing sports and after spending his "whole life with other people's kids," he wants to spend more time with his kids.

Smith said it's the trust of the parents to send their kids to Simeon that has allowed him to be so successful. Of course there have been many greats to pass through the school during his tenure: Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker among others.

But it all started with Derrick Rose.

"He upstarted my career on a national level, because he was a top five player in the country and everybody wanted to see," Smith said. "I respect him and his family for trusting me."

On coaching so many great players over the years, Smith said, "It's been great. It keeps you working because you have to work for them. You can't just be a regular high school coach for those guys. You have to be over the top. You have to learn and understand how to make them better players and people. Those guys have been great, so humble. That's what makes it so special. They all just wanted to win and that's me."

When asked about his favorite memory, a couple involving Rose and Parker stood out.

"That hug from Derrick in the last state championship and that hug from Jabari that last state championship, those meant a lot," Smith said. "Just for that moment, to embrace them as players, and as people."

Smith's current Simeon squad is right near the top of the state rankings again and certainly have a shot to compete for another championship.

It would be quite the ending to an amazingly successful run.

"To go out on top?" Smith said. "It would be like a fairytale story and we can finish this thing off the way we want to."

Simeon faces Curie Thursday night in the Public League semifinals as Smith chases his eighth city championship.

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