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Vernon Hills coach knows girls hoops star will be ready to go when it really counts

After losing for second straight year state-championship game Sydney Smith is overcome by emotias she carries trophy following finals loss

After losing for the second straight year in the state-championship game, Sydney Smith is overcome by emotion as she carries the trophy following the finals loss to Quincy Notre Dame. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

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Verbally committed to the University of Vermont (NCAA Division 1, 10-21 record last year)

Last year, Smith was second on team in scoring (12.7 ppg) and assists (2.1 apg), and was the team’s leading rebounder (6.3 rpg).

As a sophomore, she led the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and was second in rebounds (5.7 rpg) and assists (2.4 apg).


Last Season: 31-3 (12-0 NSC Prairie, NSC champion); lost 62-45 to Quincy Notre Dame in the 3A state championship game. It was the second year in a row the Cougars finished runner-up in the 3A state tournament.

Vernon Hills is 88-11 over the last three seasons with two second-place trophies from the 3A state tournament, two Prairie Division titles, and a North Suburban Conference title last season, the first ever for a Prairie Division team.

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Updated: October 8, 2013 2:39AM

On Monday afternoon, Vernon Hills High School senior girls basketball star Sydney Smith talked freely about the surgery she was to undergo in a couple of days.

The surgery was Wednesday and two days later, the two-time All-Lake County Girls Basketball Team selection obviously wasn’t able to say anything about the effort to correct an underbite and other issues related to the alignment of her lower jaw.

So, speaking for her was Paul Brettner, Sydney’s hoops coach at Vernon Hills High, and what he said in 11 words spoke volumes about a player who’s already verbally committed to play college hoops at the University of Vermont (NCAA Division 1, 10-21 record last season).

“She’s a tough kid. She never fails to answer the bell.”

That bell, in terms of high school hoops, literally will ring this year on Nov. 4, which is Day 1 of practice for girls squads. It’s possible she’ll be ready to go that afternoon on the hardwood ... or possibly not.

Either way, Brettner knows Sydney is a gamer and that all is well that ends well, and this is going to end well, both for Sydney personally and for the Cougars’ hoops program.

“As far as I know, she’ll be pretty close to ready to come back by the time the IHSA winter season starts,” Brettner said. “It will likely be one of a couple of scenarios: Either she’s ready to go on time and it’s business as usual, or it will take her a little bit of time to get going and we’ll have a chance to get a little extra experience for some of our other players.”

Regardless of how it starts, in each of Sydney’s last two years, Vernon Hills was playing on the very last day of the season — finishing second in back-to-back years in the IHSA state tournament for smaller-size schools. With Smith and Lauren Webb returning, the Cougars will be the best of the smaller schools in Lake County again this year.

“I don’t know exactly what we’ll look like when the season starts, but we have several kids on the team who were up last year or who came up at the end of the year and got three weeks of additional practice (during the state playoffs) in with the varsity team,” Brettner said. “You hope that kind of competition helped prepare them a little bit.”

As you might guess about someone who knew she wasn’t going to be talking much for awhile, Sydney had plenty to say in the days before the surgery. Here’s how that went down:

Q: Why now?

A: “This was really the best time for me to do it, and the only time where it didn’t really get in the way of basketball. Next summer, I’ll be off to college and playing basketball year-round, and I didn’t want to wait until after college when it could be a big inconvenience. I began the process back when I entered high school, so it’s been in my plans for a long time.”

Q: This is a significant procedure that involves cutting bone. What are they trying to accomplish?

A: “I have an underbite, so they’re going to adjust it by moving my top jaw a little forward and then they’re going to take my bottom jaw and move it back. They’re also going to move it to the right and align everything.”

Q: So, when can you get back to preparing for the season?

“The recovery time is two to two-and-a-half months with no contact, possibly three (months). I’ve been told that after a few weeks, I’ll be able to work out on the bike and the elliptical, but I won’t be running for about a month. Once I can start running, I’ll be in the gym with a basketball.”

(Note: During the offseason, Smith trains under the eye of Jeff Pagliocca, who has also worked with Bennett-Swanson, Brandon Paul, and others.)

Q: How does she think this will affect you?

“I think at the beginning of the season, I’ll probably be a little hesitant just because I won’t have had contact for a few months. Once I get comfortable, I don’t expect that it will affect me at all.”

(Note: She said that as far as she knows, she won’t have to wear a mask.)

Q: What does this mean for the team and the upcoming season?

“My teammates will be playing in a league this fall, so I won’t be able to play with them, but they know what they have to do. We have a strong team with a lot of very capable players, so I’m not worried at all. We’re perfectly capable of winning games with me not at 100 percent. Overall, I think it’s mostly an inconvenience for me. I’m looking forward to us having another great season.”

The season, for Vernon Hills, will start in mid-November with a tournament that the Cougars are hosting. The field includes Glenbrook North, Lake Forest Academy, Maine East, Woodstock North and Lake Forest.

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