HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: GREAT FALLS COACH JOHN SMITH

Path to 900 has no shortcuts

C.A. Johnson hopes to delay milestone

ainelson@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2013 

With a career record of 897-236, Great Falls coach John Smith has cemented his place as South Carolina’s winningest basketball coach.

In his 44th season at the helm for the Red Devils, Smith is nearing 900 wins.

The Red Devils play host to C.A. Johnson tonight, and a win would put their legendary coach two away from the milestone.

Hornets coach Daryl Jarvis is hoping to postpone that celebration.

“I admire him and everything he has done, and I want him to get that 900, but we don’t want to help him get there,” said Jarvis, whose Hornets endured two losses to Smith’s team last year.

Not that Smith has a big celebration planned to commemorate his milestone.

“I’ll give myself about five minutes to enjoy it and then I’ll move on to preparing for the next game,” Smith said. “I’m pretty much a creature of habit, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll take it the same way I’ve done every other win.”

As the milestones have passed — win No. 700 which came with the Red Devils’ Class A title in 2003 and “was just perfect” in Smith’s estimation — the coach insists he has gotten no closer to perfection.

“You’re only as good as your last game,” said the Smith, whose team lost to Chesterfield, 57-56, on Dec. 29.

Smith has been tweaking his game plan this season to get the best from his inexperienced squad (he lost four starters from the 2012 championship team). He might have surpassed the 900 mark in December, but a three-loss streak set the Red Devils back. Then losing their only returning starter, Jamarcus Culp, to injury after Christmas put Great Falls at a further disadvantage.

Beginning Region 3-A competition, the Red Devils are 4-6.

“We could either be 9-1 or 0-10, to be honest with you,” Smith said. “When you have that many close games, it’s real easy to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.”

So, although the entire Great Falls basketball staff, from middle school up, is a collection of Smith’s former student-athletes, Smith remains a diligent student of the game.

“If I were perfect, I certainly wouldn’t be buying DVDs and all of the instructional tapes, going to basketball games and watching games,” he said. Smith studies college coaches, borrows their tactics and their plays. In this way, Smith has become a master of adaptation.

Despite his long history of success and consistency, Smith said, “Teams still have to scout me, because I try to match the system to my players, so it’s not the same game.”

That’s something Jarvis knows first-hand.

“The biggest thing is his personnel and how he uses it,” Jarvis said. “He does a great job of making all types of adjustments.”

At 897 wins and counting, the same passion is driving Smith now as when he began as a 22-year-old Newberry graduate.

“I’m still in love with basketball and intrigued by trying to come up with those things that suit the players,” Smith said.

That love, above the joy of victory and the pride of achievement, is what keeps Smith in the game.

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