In the season opener, the Lions play host to Villa Rica at 7:30 p.m. in Smiley’s first game as a head basketball coach. Smiley served as an assistant on last year’s 10-15 team and hopes that some of the success can carry over into this season, especially with a strong returning senior class.
“I think it’s very important. I’ve been telling those [seniors], Kahlil [Wynn], Justis [Ward] and Blake [Reese] that this team is only going to go as the senior class allows,” Smiley said. “I think all three of them are willing to accept the role of being a senior and providing the senior leadership. I’ve seen it more in practice and letting me sit back and coach while they get onto the guys. I think they understand where I’m coming from and where they are as senior leaders ... we have two other seniors in Shaq [Allen] and Stephon [O’Neal] that I expect to lead, as well.”
After getting some work in this summer, this year’s preseason has been a little tough, as Smiley also serves as an assistant football coach. But the first-year Central head man is already putting his mark on the program.
“On me, it’s been tough trying to go back and forth between football and basketball, but we have a core of about 10 guys that don’t play football. So we were able to start on the 29th just like everybody. So we’ve been able to practice, except for Friday when I had football games. I think we’ve gotten off to a good start,” Smiley said.
“Just trying to get guys to play with effort, no matter how the game is going. If it’s in our favor or not in our favor, just constant effort night-in and night-out. Discipline is always going to be a big thing with us. Just making sure we’re doing the right thing — whether it’s on the court or in the classroom or in the community. That’s some of the things we’ve been preaching, really, since I took over back in April.”
While the Lions open up the season tonight against VR, they won’t play again until Dec. 4 at Heard County. That will give Smiley and his staff a chance to check out their new Region 4-AAA opponents.
“I’ve kind of gotten the beat on a couple schools already. I went to see Villa Rica on Thursday when they played Chapel Hill, so I got a chance to see them. Then on Saturday night I got to see Jackson play Whitewater, and they looked really good. I haven’t seen Douglass and I haven’t seen B.E.S.T. Academy, but during this non-region schedule with Thanksgiving tournaments and things like that, it will give me a chance to scout teams that are new to the region to get a feel for the type of players they have and have a game plan waiting for when we do get into region play,” Smiley said.
Last year’s 10-win season was the first since getting 11 wins in 2004-05. With the group coming back, Smiley is hoping to build off that momentum and try to get to the next step — a playoff appearance.
“I feel like if we continue to preach all the things we’re doing with playing hard and playing with effort night-in and night-out ... I think the biggest thing with us, if we can limit our turnovers, we can have a shot to be competitive in every game that we play. It’s just a matter of us going out and wanting it more than the other team. We’re going to try to build that mindset that we’re good enough to compete with anybody in our region and anybody on our schedule. It’s just a matter of whether we’re going to come out and be focused enough,” Smiley said.
“We’ve got a core group of guys that witnessed that success last year, and I think they’re hungry to build and continue what they did last year. Speaking more about that senior class, I think they’re ready to step out, play the game of basketball and continue to have success.”