By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Generals have a new commanding officer.
Matt Smith, a Princeton Senior High School graduate who’s been an assistant coach with the Tigers basketball team for the past five years, led his first practice as a head coach on Monday at the Montcalm gym.
It was the first day of boys’ basketball practice in West Virginia.
“It’s a new challenge,” Smith said. “It’s a great opportunity to actually be a head coach, to see if I have what it takes to run a program ... to see if I can get kids motivated.”
Smith, a math teacher at Princeton Senior High, took over the Generals program from Lindsey Jones after he became the new coach of the PikeView boys. His top assistant is Montcalm grad Adam Havens.
Smith is spending much of the first few days getting to know the players and their level of basketball skill. That began with ball-handling drills for the dozen boys present in the MHS gym.
“It seems we have some true talent,” he said during a short break in the action, “and if we work hard, we should have some success.”
“We’re starting from square one,” he said. “We just need to evaluate what skill set we have, starting with fundamentals, and move on from there. The good thing, we don’t have to worry about a tryout — we can go right into teaching those things.”
As a player for Princeton coach Robert Wray and as a member of Ernie Gilliard’s PSHS coaching staff, he said he learned “hard work.”
“Whatever you expect from your players, you have to expect that much and more from yourself and your staff — putting in the time to research new offenses, to examine ways to beat defenses, to motivate kids to play defense. All those things.
“And another thing is, don’t over-complicate it. I’ve learned that a lot in the last couple of years. Everybody thinks that they need to have some great scheme.
“Basketball hasn’t changed a lot in the last 50 years. You’ve still got to go out and play hard-nosed defense, and hope that you can out-score your opponent.”
Smith earned a teaching degree from Concord University and then officiated basketball “for a few years” before signing on as a coach.
He said, “For the first couple of years, I knew I had a lot to learn, and I learned a lot as an assistant. I learned a whole lot. In the last couple of years, I’ve thought about (applying to be a head coach), but the opportunity never presented itself.”
Putting in for the Montcalm job, he said, “wasn’t easy, though. (I’ve spent) a lot of nights talking with my wife, whether this was the right decision or not. And I think it is. I think it’ll be a good fit. It’s a good situation, and I’m excited about it.”
Asked about his thoughts on defense, he said, “When I played, that was one thing I took pride in.” He said Wray would assign him to cover “whoever the other team’s best player is.”
“I remember, in the summer league, I got the privilege of guarding J.J. Redick (future star at Duke). It wasn’t great, but I accepted the challenge.”
Now his plan is “getting kids to the point where they understand that defense is just as important (as scoring). Hard work on defense — Coach (Gilliard) taught me this at an early age. If you play solid defense, you’ll average 10 points offensively — just by playing defense and being in the right position. “
“We’ll look at, based on personnel, different types of defenses. Obviously, I come from a place where I liked to play man-to-man, but we’ll look at some zones, (and) hopefully get to the point where we can pressure some people.”
Offensively, he said, “One thing we’re going to look at is an open set, a motion style offense. We want to create some mismatches, (using) a screen-roll ... a four-around-one — just so we’re not stagnant. ... You’ve got to get movement.”
“We’re going to look at the personnel before we can say definitely what the offense philosophy is going to be.”
He said he didn’t know “a whole lot” about Montcalm basketball. Under Jones, he said, “They had some success, maybe not as much as they would have liked.”
He is aware the Generals play in “a very tough, tough section when it comes to the state of West Virginia single-A. And it got that much tougher with Tug Valley (moving into Class A).”
“But everyone told me, you have a group of guys who are willing to work hard, and want to be successful. And if we have that, we can accomplish great things.”
— Contact Tom Bone at