In the junior college ranks, there is a veteran basketball coach from the state of Kentucky who is doing very well with his Missouri team this winter.
His name is Patrick Smith, a Somerset native whose Moberly Area Community College men’s squad was ranked at No. 4 in National Junior College Athletic Association Top 25 poll going into this week’s action. Moberly Area CC is located in central Missouri, practically halfway between metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis.
Smith (pictured) is not only doing very well this season with his 19-1 squad, but he has been a success on the hardwood floor for a long time, including stints at a couple of now-defunct schools in Kentucky (Sue Bennett in London and St. Catharine in Springfield). In fact, the seven-time coach of the year was chosen to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in 2016.
As a Kentucky native, how did Smith feel about being selected into MBCA’s Hall of Fame?
“I’m actually honored that somebody from Kentucky can represent our great state of the Bluegrass in being inducted into Missouri’s Hall of Fame,” he said recently. “Missouri is so similar to Kentucky in that both states are basketball crazy. I also owe my love for basketball to growing up in Somerset and my start in coaching to Sue Bennett and St. Catharine, so I’m just honored to represent Kentucky basketball.” (Video of Smith's 2016 MBCA Hall of Fame Induction can be seen below.)
Entering this season, Smith – now in his second stint at Moberly -- has compiled a remarkable record of 659-387 in several coaching stops at junior colleges as well as NCAA Division II head coaching job for two years at Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
He is popularly known as a teacher of the game who likes to rebuild struggling programs.While at Moberly, he has coached the Greyhounds to three appearances in the national tournament. He also serves as the school’s athletic director.
Smith, 57, said his teams at Moberly are the most fun ones that he has had so far in his coaching career, partially because of crowd atmosphere at home games.
“(It’s) because of the fan support we have here and the how important this basketball program is to this college and town,” Smith commented. “I always missed coaching here (at Moberly) the years after I left, so it was just an honor to come back here and be the Greyhound coach. We play in a 4,000 box-seat arena that we get great crowds into and I have always missed game nights in Moberly.”
Spending one season as a NCAA Division I assistant at Miami (Fla.) was very helpful for Smith’s career. He learned more about defense.
“I was assistant coach at the University of Miami in 1997-98 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience as we finished 18-10 and made the first NCAA appearance in 38 years,” said Smith. “Working under Coach (Leonard) Hamilton and Coach Stan Jones was so beneficial because I was subjected to some different coaching styles and picked some valuable bits and pieces; for example, my changing defenses was very much a product of what I learned from being an Division I assistant.”
During his younger days, Smith played prep basketball at Somerset High School during the 1970s when some of his teammates included standouts like Bobby Upchurch, Greg Gover, (future University of Maryland star) Mark Fothergill and Jeff Dunagan.
“I played high school basketball for (coach) Chuck Eckler at Somerset, graduating in 1977,” said Smith. “I was a very average high school player on a really good team. (I) felt we had the best team in the 12th Region my senior year but got upset by Casey County.”
Then Smith signed with Somerset Community College but its coach, Dean Brunson, left the school. So the player followed Brunson to Bluefield College in Virginia and became a three-year starter and team captain for two years.
“We won over 50 games the last two years, had a lot of fun and learned a lot of basketball from Coach Brunson,” Smith said.
Smith also pointed out his father, Malcolm Smith, had the most influence on his coaching career. The elder Smith still lives in Somerset.
“I’d say definitely my father because he was the one who developed a love of basketball inside of me at an early age and was always someone I could bounce things off,” recalled Smith, who also calls himself a proud father with four children. “He was a high school coach in both Ohio and Kentucky before I was born and very knowledgeable about the game.
“My grandfather, Claude McKnight, coached at (old) London and Bush high schools (in Laurel County) also really influenced me about the game.
“Third, to all of the players I’ve coached who have richly given more to me than I’ve been able to give, I thank them all. I’m very demanding but I think they all know I cared.”
Despite outside distractions like social media and video games in today’s environment, the college players really haven’t changed that much over the years, according to Smith.
“(I) still love coaching the college kids, still think most of them are good at heart,” he said. “Used to be you could tell him to run through a wall and they’d ask how hard. Now you have to convince them why but I love the challenge of that, watching our players grow as people.
“Today’s kids are not necessarily harder to coach. Most of our players are talented and end up going to NCAA Division I level, but I do think there’s a lot more outside noise for these kids to handle than it used to be. However, most of them are much like we were years ago, need to hear the right thing and be led in the right direction.”
Smith is happy and plans to keep coaching at Moberly. After he retires, Smith, though, wouldn’t mind coaching again.
“I plan on coaching at Moberly as long as I can and I’m able,” he said. “However, after I retire, I would give anything to be able to come back to Kentucky and end my career coaching Kentucky high school basketball for a few seasons. End it the same way it all started, being a part of the Kentucky basketball.”
That sure would be a very nice ending for this likable Kentuckian if it all works out.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com Magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo Courtesy of Moberly Monitor-Index