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Rigorous practices, bonding are keys to H-F’s stellar girls basketball squad

It’s no secret that the Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball team is enjoying another banner year with high hopes for the post-season play that begins next month.  

At the same time, there are secrets to the perennial successes of teams coached by Anthony Smith.

  Coach Anthony Smith addresses his highly ranked
  girls basketball team at a practice last week.
(Photo by
  R.L. Anderson/H-F Chronicle)

 

 

It’s no secret that the Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball team is enjoying another banner year with high hopes for the post-season play that begins next month.  

At the same time, there are secrets to the perennial successes of teams coached by Anthony Smith.

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It’s yet another good season for Smith, now in his fourth year at the helm at H-F. His squad has a 14-2 record and is well-positioned for the Regional Tournament that begins Feb. 14 at H-F.

“This group has worked hard,” Smith said. “They’ve really made a commitment that makes the coach’s job easy.”

A year ago the Vikings lost to Chicago’s Whitney Young 76-74 in the Illinois High School Association’s Supersectional round. The previous year, H-F claimed a fourth place finish in the state finals.

Earlier, there was Smith’s amazing 12-year tenure at Bolingbrook, where his team made the trip to the state tournament eight times, netting four state championships, two second place finishes and two fourth place trophies. 

Smith’s current H-F team has been ranked all season as No. 1 or 2 in the Chicago Tribune girls basketball rankings. But he downplays the polls.

“I concentrate on the next game, the next opponent. So do the girls,” Smith explained.

Several good teams potentially stand in H-F’s way of returning downstate. Smith cited Marist, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way West, Marian Catholic and Crete-Monee as obstacles.

“We’ll have a tough go of it,” he said.

Avoiding overconfidence is one of those secrets to success.

H-F’s fate largely rests in the hands of five seniors, three of whom are headed to NCAA Division 1 programs.

 Smith said of Missouri-bound Nadia Chanel Green, “She’s the leader; she’s the one who makes us go.”

 Finess Dickson is headed to Memphis. For now, Smith explained, “Finess is our point guard. She sets the defense and the offense.”

Smith is also high on Eva Rubin, who has committed to Arizona State.

“She’s come a long way and is still improving. Eva is a big force for us in the front court,” Smith noted. “They’re all really talented kids.”

Two other seniors are not-so-secret weapons.

Smith praised Michelle Pruitt.

“If we had a most valuable player in the first half of the season, it was Michelle,” Smith noted. “She is our sixth man, coming off the bench, and has been a critical factor for us. She may be one of the best players coming off the bench in the country.”

Getting more notice recently is Karli Seay.

“We match Karli against the other teams’ best guards; that’s a tough assignment,” Smith said. “That tells you how important she is. She’s overlooked, but we count on her, like when she scored 28 points against Bolingbrook.” In that contest, highly-ranked Bolingbrook defeated H-F 64-48.

Another secret is the balance Smith achieves between rigorous practices and the strong bond that develops among the players.

Smith works the girls hard in practice. Those not practicing stand on the sideline ― they don’t sit. The players on the court get the occasional earful of direction from Smith. At the free throw lanes during a scrimmage, the girls aren’t allowed to rest their hands on their knees. They know to fight the fatigue and keep on going.   

Another secret to success is Smith’s utilization of boys who will scrimmage as a unit against the girls.

“They just missed making the boys team; they’re good players,” Smith said. “I have occasionally used boys in practices to scrimmage against the girls. It helps make them better.”

And there’s the bonding. After a long practice, the girls stand around the center circle holding hands as they listen to Smith recap the session and keep the focus on getting better.

“I definitely have been blessed to work with kids who work hard,” Smith said. “That’s the main ingredient right there. There’s no secret, really, it’s the kids. There’s no magic powder I can wave on them. They come in and do the work every day. They have to come into the weight room, do the conditioning work on the track, the extra work, put in the time and commitment. I just need them to come in here and work at it. That’s the mixture for success.”

After a recent practice and the bonding session at center court, the girls began collecting their things as it was time to go home. As they were departing, one player opened a large box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and shared them with her teammates and Anthony Smith.

As the post season arrives, we’ll know whether that becomes another secret to success.

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