Baranek: Anthony Smith eager to put Homewood-Flossmoor girls hoops program on top
Want to give new Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball coach Anthony Smith a good laugh?
Ask him about the transfers.
I just had to the other day after hearing for the past couple of months about how he’s had as many as eight potential transfers practicing in the gym this summer.
“Eight? Ha, ha, ha!” Smith said. “You got more than I heard. I heard it was more like five or six. But now it’s eight?
“There have been a lot of inquiries about that, but I know that H-F does a thorough job of checking all of that out. I know that we have one for sure who is in school and just took a placement test.”
The one is junior Faith Suggs, who as a sophomore was one of Plainfield East’s leading scorers. Otherwise, according to Smith, anybody else from another school who was spied by curious onlookers was, to his knowledge, simply taking advantage of an open gym.
“We’ve got kids who live in Homewood and Flossmoor who go to different schools, also,” Smith said. “We’re just working hard, just getting to know kids and learning where everything is around here.”
His program at H-F, according to Smith, has been a work in progress. There was no organized summer league schedule, no traveling as a Vikings team.
“We’ve done a lot with lifting weights, that type of thing,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of scrimmages with conference teams, but that’s about it.
“Some of the girls are playing (together) with a club team and that’s a positive. And some of the others are playing with different clubs, too. So we’re just piecing it all together.”
He does, however, have a very clear plan.
“We are going to put our work ethic up against anybody in the country, not just the state of Illinois,” he said. “We are going to maximize our potential. It’s what I do.”
The record stands for itself, what Smith did in his 12 years at Bolingbrook, winning four state titles and producing nine consecutive sectional champions.
During that time, his program seemingly as a magnet for not only the best players in Bolingbrook, but others who managed to find their way to the district and be a part of a program that was well known throughout the country.
Smith has his share of detractors, even among some fellow coaches who (always off the record) question his ethics and suggest he steals players from other schools through illegal recruiting tactics. But, assuming money isn’t involved, can you really steal someone from where she obviously wasn’t happy enough to want to stay?
Smith makes no apologies for being someone for whom kids want to play.
“I don’t know what it is, but yeah, kids do enjoy playing for me,” he said. “They do enjoy being pushed. I am available 24-7 to those kids, and the kids and their families do appreciate that and work hard for me.
“If a kid wants to play for me, I’m happy to have them, as long as they are doing it correctly (through legal channels). If other coaches don’t like that, I understand, but I’m not going to change being me just because someone doesn’t like it.”
How many girls basketball families just happen to move into H-F’s district remains to be seen. It’ll be interesting to watch. Smith said he’s more excited about adding from within the already existing school community to a roster that includes just over a half-dozen returnees, including Jaiveonna Norris and Ashley Johnson.
“We had a couple of kids who didn’t play basketball there last year (6-foot-3 senior center Kandace Tate and 5-9 senior forward/guard Kelsey Chandler) who I’m looking forward to working with,” he said.
“When I saw them (at camp) and thought they might be transfers, too. But they told me, ‘No, we’ve been here, we just didn’t play last season.’ I was like, ‘Holy cow. Anybody else in the hallways?’ I’ll have to look in the hallways and see if there are more of ’em. Those two are going to help us out.”
Tate, who played basketball at H-F her freshman and sophomore seasons before quitting to join a volleyball club team, said her interest in returning was piqued when she learned Smith had been hired.
“Oh, yes, most definitely,” she said. “I’ve heard he yells a lot and he’s a little crazy, but also, he has developed some really good players. I want to take the opportunity to play for him so that he could develop me, too.
“It’s very exciting. I think we have a lot of potential to be really good this year. He pushes us to go hard. Even in the summer he was working us out (hard), so I’m really excited and looking forward to the season to see what we can do.”
The bottom line is, Smith assures that parents in Homewood and Flossmoor don’t have to worry that he’s importing in his own team.
“No. No. No,” he said with a chuckle. “Any kid who wants to come in and dedicate themselves and work hard, we have a place for them at H-F. I haven’t cut a kid who was a hard worker. I can give them my word on that.
“Any kid who isn’t committed to doing this six days of the week, they may have a little bit of trouble. But for everybody else, it’s going to be great.”
Meanwhile, past and present blended together during June, when Morgan Tuck and Nia Moore, among Smith’s former stars from Bolingbrook, came to the H-F camps and worked out with the kids who were there.
“That was definitely special, meant a lot to me just to have those kids come back and say, ‘Hey, coach, can I get into the gym?’ ” he said. “To have a kid like Morgan Tuck just come every single day and do every drill, every weightlift ... She did everything with those kids.
“I can’t be thankful enough to have a kid who just won a national title (at UConn) who would come back and spend all of June at three-hour-a-day workouts, and stay afterward talking to kids and telling them that can reach their goals.
“The bad part about it was that she probably was the hardest-working kid there,” Smith added, laughing. “We’ve got to change that part of it. But everything else about it was great.”
Most assured, he won’t be a “forgotten” coach in Bolingbrook High School sports history.
“It was home,” Smith said. “I went to high school there, grew up there, I knew everyone there. The mayor there (Roger Claar), he was a girls basketball fan, and he loved it and supported it.
“We turned Bolingbrook into a girls basketball town. We competed with the football program. Everybody knew that this was the place to be at. We had it going there.”
The next challenge awaits.