By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – If you had never met Michael Smith, you would probably think he is a no-nonsense guy by some of the things you would hear about his Booneville High boys basketball team.
Players were off limits for interviews. They couldn’t leave their hotel rooms the night before their state semifinals game and were scared to even open the doors to their rooms.
In addition, senior guard Tre Welch said it often seemed like his coach “had his underwear in a bunch.”
But there were legitimate reasons behind those things, and Smith is a nice enough guy to explain why.
With a young team that was just starting to hit its stride, Smith and Co. thought it would be a good thing to restrict his players from doing interviews. They didn’t want the team chemistry to be affected by a few select players being interviewed and the others wondering why they weren’t getting any attention for playing well.
“I also don’t want to draw the attention of another coach to one of our players to where they think they have to stop him or another guy to beat us,” Smith said about his players’ no-interview policy.
It all seemed to work as Booneville knocked off defending MHSAA Class 3A state champion Forest in the semifinals and then defeated Division 1-3A rival Corinth – which had already won 3 of 4 games that season against the Prentiss County school – in the state championship game for the Blue Devils’ first state crown since 1963.
“It’s an honor playing for Coach Smith,” said Welch, who, along with his teammates, isn’t afraid to call his coach late at night if he experiences car trouble. “He’s just like another dad to me. He was always there whenever I needed anything.
“He was hard on us in practice and during the games, but it was worth it.”
The Blue Devils’ 28-7 and fourth overall state championship resulted in an honor for Smith: the 2010-11 Daily Journal Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
Captured on video
His rampésumampé alone is a good indicator of his tremendous intelligence and leadership. Only 33 years old, he has been an assistant principal and head varsity basketball coach for six years.
He proved just how well he can motivate teenagers and get them to perform at their all-time best on a consistent basis during the past two months.
Before taking on McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant and highly-favored Cleveland East Side in the North quarterfinals, Smith showed his club highlights of O’Bryant and his teammates making mistakes – e.g. a bad pass that hit a cheerleader, dribbling the ball off their foot and missing layups – during games.
“We told them that it takes Hollywood nine months to make a perfect movie. When you go to a theater, you see the perfect movie.
“And that’s what YouTube is. In a five-minute clip, they don’t show you where he (O’Bryant) dribbles it off his foot or where he misses a 2-foot shot. They are just going to show you the pertinent stuff.
“We wanted for them to just understand that he’s good and that he deserves all the credit he’s getting, but at the same time, you have to make him make plays.”
Smith and his staff certainly got their message across. The Blue Devils upset Cleveland East Side 63-51.
Another influential use of YouTube came late in the season when the Booneville team watched clips of inspirational speeches from several different sports movies that were compiled into one video.
“It’s about 21/2 minutes long. We showed it to them when we played Baldwyn here (in Booneville),” Smith said. “They wanted to watch it every time. … We watched it from every game on.
“We would take a laptop and watch it before the state tournament. We even cut it up and took just the audio of it and played it on the bus right before a game.
“It just talks about to be special you have to do special things.”
He and his players certainly did.