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Smith nets 800th career hoops win

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Lancaster native not dwelling on milestone

By The Staff

Great Falls High basketball coach John Smith has compiled an impressive list of records and accomplishments in his career.

Smith is the state’s all-time winningest boys basketball coach. He has six state titles, once recorded back-to-back unbeaten state title winning seasons, has averaged more than 20 wins a year and got his team to state nine times during a 10-year stretch.

While Smith jokes that his greatest accomplishment is not having people get tired of him after 40 years, perhaps the most impressive (and least publicized) mark Smith has set in four decades of prep basketball  is the number of technical fouls he has accumulated.

That would be one.

In Smith’s 1,024 career games on the bench at Great Falls, he has been whistled for a single technical foul.

Smith remembers the game. It was in the early 1980s and the Devils were playing at Clover. Smith was displeased with a call.

“I gestured,” Smith said. “Threw my hands up over my head. The official thought I was trying to show him up.”

Smith doesn’t remember whether or not Clover actually made the foul shots, though he does recall that the Blue Eagles won. Smith even remembers the official’s name, though he didn’t want to mention it. He said the fellow was a good referee (he’s now retired) and already endured enough ribbing for being “the guy that teed up John Smith.”

That isn’t the only time Smith has disagreed with an official’s call, nor the only time he has argued his case from the bench.

“I may have deserved another one on a few other occasions,” Smith said.

Great Falls had a big 81-30 win over McBee on Friday to open Region III-A play. The game was the 1,023rd he’s coached in which he didn’t earn a technical. It was also the 800th in which his team recorded a victory. That’s an impressive mark for any coach to reach, considering no other boys coach in the history of the state has done it, or come close. What most would consider an impressive pinnacle is just another day’s work to Smith, though.

“It’s just a job. I’m thankful I can go to work every day. I try not to get too high, or too low,” Smith said.

Smith has never been much into self-aggrandizement. In early 2006, Smith set the state record with win  743. He said he was happy for the town and his school, since both could brag their coach held the record. He didn’t really see himself as the winner of 743 games, though, Great Falls had won 743 games during his tenure, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of great players, it’s more about them,” Smith said.

Smith said he did have fond remembrances of his 700th win, but only because that victory coincided with his team winning a state title. Otherwise, wins 225 and 612 were about the same as number 800. While he doesn’t really seek to discuss personal achievements, Smith does get excited talking about his current team. The Red Devils played a brutal early-season schedule that included AA Newberry, AAA Fairfield Central and AAAA Northwestern.

“Playing in some of the tournaments we did, with a lot of the big boys, we’re doing pretty good to be sitting here at 10-1,” Smith said.

What he accomplished on Saturday, or last year or in any of his 40 seasons is not as important as this team, this year and the next foe. Smith wants this incarnation of the Devils to play as well as possible, as deep into the postseason as possible.

“The personal stuff, maybe once I’ve retired I can look back and enjoy those things. Right now, I’m more worried about the next game,” he said.

Given the lack of technicals Smith has received over the years, it’s no surprise he’s not that good at bragging on himself, since the two things are very similar. He’s good at a lot of things (teaching, coaching) but drawing attention to himself isn’t one of them.