DeCesare: Illini should have hired Smith

Former DePaul assistant coach Gary DeCesare said Wednesday he believes Illinois made a mistake by not going after Simeon’s Robert Smith for its head-coaching vacancy.

Smith was contacted early in the Illini’s search, but he was never formally interviewed for the position. The Illini are reportedly close to hiring Ohio coach John Groce.

Smith has won five state titles in eight years at Simeon and has coached NBA MVP Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker, the nation’s No. 1 junior.

DeCesare spent four years as DePaul’s associate head coach and was an assistant at Richmond for three years. He’s been the head coach at St. Rita High School in Chicago for the past three years.

“I think there’s a lot of really good high school coaches out there who could do as good or better job than a lot of college coaches out there,” said DeCesare, who also coached for 16 years at St. Raymond’s in the Bronx. “Unfortunately, athletic directors are trying to win press conferences and don’t want to take a shot.”

DeCesare pointed to the success of Dan Hurley as an example of a high school coach who could make it in college basketball. Hurley compiled a 223-31 record at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey from 2001-2010. He was hired as Wagner’s head coach in 2010, went 25-6 in his second season there and was recently hired as Rhode Island’s head coach.

DeCesare believes Smith could have similar success as a Division I coach.

“There’s a lot of coaches who get jobs that have never called a timeout, never ran a program,” DeCesare said. “Rob’s run a program like a college program. I would hire him. I would have given Rob Smith a shot. You got to think outside the box.”

Smith won an Illinois high school state record fifth state championship on March 7. He’s compiled a 230-37 record in eight years. His current players include Parker, Kendrick Nunn, who was previously committed to Texas A&M, and Marquette recruit Steve Taylor.