Robert Smith, the legendary Simeon Career Academy boys basketball coach, knows the kind of winning the Bulls have achieved. Smith has coached Simeon to six state championships, two with Derrick Rose and four with Jabari Parker. Smith was a Parker guest Wednesday when Parker—symbolically now Bulls No. 2 for his second chance—met reporters in the Atrium in the United Center in his Bulls introductory media session.
Smith listened to all those inquiries and implied doubts about the health of Parker, who had two anterior cruciate surgeries in his four NBA seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, the questions about whether Parker can defend enough, that he's really a limited power forward, that he just doesn't have the moves any more.
Smith mostly greeted it all with a smirk. "Just wait," you could see in his eyes, bullish both about the newest Bull and the Bulls.
"When he left Duke, that's the way he looks to me now," Smith said about Parker, who regularly consults his former high school coach. "His body looks great. I know how hard he's been working to get to this point; his work ethic is off the charts. He seems to be a little more athletic than he was. His jump shot got a whole lot better. He's really been working on the three ball. He's shot really well from the corners and his mid range is tremendous. He's been working on his craft.
"I don't know people who have come back from ACLs who move how he moves," Smith asserted. "After the first one and even after the second and (the recent) playoffs, watching some of the stuff he's been doing lately and how athletic he's been. He's still young; he's only 23. I would never have thought he was going to be this athletic when he was a young kid. But as he grew into his body he began to get more athletic. After the first (ACL), I asked him, 'What did they do to you? What did they put in your leg?' And now it's like almost the same thing, 'What are they doing to you. How are you doing this?'
"I don't know why they had him stuck (in Milwaukee) at the four spot," said Smith. "He can definitely play at the three, on the wing more. That's the beauty for him of coming to the Bulls, being able to do that and move around the court more. People always talk about the defensive end. But I watch NBA all the time. There's not many people sitting around locking guys down. If you have rim protectors and schemes fit for the player, the way everyone is switching now, he can get out and guard some two guards. I think moving him to the three will be great. I think the Bulls have great core and have a chance to be really really good if everybody buys into what they try to do. I think they have a great shot at it."
No one, not even Smith, is suggesting that Parker is the cherished Bulls final piece.
But Smith points out he's seen Parker through four state championships for his Simeon teams when many harbored the same doubts, about athletic ability, about shooting, about fit. Parker always responded and only, Smith points out, about winning.
It's a theme that resonated through the morning in conversations with Parker and his supporters, which also included his mother, father and siblings in attendance with the Michael Jordan statue looming over the scene. There is no next, but there could be something.
"He's not a kid about hanging out all the time and that stuff; he's about winning basketball games and giving back to the community," Smith said. "He had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon coming behind Derrick, one of the top five freshman in the country and No.1 as a junior. The pressure has been on him all his life ever since Simeon. It's not a huge problem.
"He and Derrick had to deal with that stuff all the time, 'Is he overrated?' 'Is he really that good?' I always told people when the lights get real bright they'll show you how good they are," Smith related. "Playing a regular team they might not go out and play as well. When the game is on the line and really matters and you need them to step up, that's the kind of player both those guys were. When you needed them the most they took care of it."
Smith, like Parker, seemed somewhat perplexed about questions regarding community ill feelings toward Rose, especially after his ACL injury. It seemed to suggest the dichotomy that often existed, that the people in the neighborhoods who knew and watched Rose the most understood his excellence and work ethic compared with those often too influenced by some media coverage.
"The Derrick situation, like Jabari said, for us he's a legend in this town," Smith said with some bewilderment. "I don't know how people can have negative things to say about him for what he did for the organization. He's Rookie of the Year, MVP, youngest to do it. He gave everything he had to the organization. Being traded, injuries, all those things are part of sports. In the playoffs (for Minnesota), I thought he played great, gave Minnesota a chance to win."
Earlier during his 20-minute session with reporters, Parker seemed somewhat annoyed about a question that seemed to diminish Rose.
"Derrick had no lows," Parker responded with some edge. "He didn't because he still maintained. Derrick is a legend no matter what. I don't like how you explained that."
The question was then rephrased and Parker answered: "No rise and fall. Injuries are a part of life; everybody has an injury either in athletics or normal life. Derrick is one of the best players to ever play the game and one of the best icons of Chicago."
Parker didn't suggest he's about to duplicate what Rose did or start plans for his own statue. But Smith warned not to doubt this kid. Parker was sanguine about his Milwaukee experience, but there long were rumors of discontent. That seemed to spill over when Parker was benched for the first two playoff games last April. Smith said he could see Parker's pain, which appears gone now that he's about to wear a Bulls jersey.
"They didn't play him those first two (playoff) games and they lost," Smith pointed out. "When he got out there and was able to perform and felt comfortable those games and he knew he was going to be out there, you saw what he could do (17-point average the next three games) and they won. Those playoffs were probably the first time since he began playing basketball he didn't know if he was going to be out there and play. He didn't have a smile on his face, almost like he was being forced to play. I've been watching him a lot and seeing him smile again. It's huge.
"He works hard and you guys will see work and him trying to get better," Smith promised. "That's the beauty of his game; he wants to learn and get better and most importantly, he wants to win."
Which certainly would leave the Bulls smiling.