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January 22, 2014

Former Boilermaker perfect coaching fit

FRANKFORT - Ryne Smith hardly stayed seated.

Or quiet.

His energetic, sometimes brash, personality hasn't seemed to fade after transitioning from Purdue player into the world of head coaching.

During a recent game controlling - not just roaming - the sidelines at his Clinton Prairie varsity coaching gig, Smith was animated and vocal, both with his players and officials.

It's the kind of energy that's needed to rebuild a program, which makes Smith such a good fit.

He's always teaching - pulling players to the sideline during nearly every free throw and gathering them close during timeouts while he's drawing up plays on the dry erase board - and seems to have the right approach to it. The raised voice rarely is directed at a player after a mistake, though there may be a quick benching, and mostly is focused on encouraging.

After one player air-balled a three-pointer, Smith loudly told him it was it was "all right, we're all right."

When another was getting ready to get a feed for a three-pointer in the corner, Smith was anticipating the play, saying even before the pass got there, "Got em, knock it in, buddy!" When it swished through, Smith swung his fist in the air and yelled "that a boy!" as the player ran past.

On a drive to the basket by another player, Smith was yelling "and one!" before the shot had even fallen. It went in, and Smith's wish was granted.

"The main thing is with young kids, we've got 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids on the team, you've just got to give them a good experience," Smith said after Clinton Prairie's 74-55 victory over rival Clinton Central Friday, pushing the Gophers to 3-5. "Come in and be excited every day. I try to be over the top with excitement, even more than I already am, in practice, laughing and having a good time but, at the same time, doing the right things and teaching these kids how to do well in life."

Smith still has to offer a lot of directives during games, telling players to "move" and "see it" - among several Matt Painterisms Smith admits to using - and, on some plays, specifically tells players where they need to be on the court.

He will let them know when they're wrong, usually by a violent stomping of a foot or, occasionally, a full jump to get the slam of both feet on the ground.

It's needed, though, that constant instruction.

The Gophers won only two games last season - they lost the other 19 games - continuing a string of struggles for the Class 1A program. Clinton Prairie hasn't had a winning season since 2004-05, and it's a combined 19-65 over the last four seasons.

In the Hoosier Heartland, the Gophers had won only two of 18 conference games in the previous four seasons.

And those are the players that Smith inherited, ones who aren't accustomed to success and who don't know the steps needed to accomplish it.

"You lose 19 times in one season and it's like, 'What are we going to do? How are we going to win games?' " Smith said. "It's just little things, finishing games. … Understand how to put four quarters together. When we have a Friday game, I say, 'Monday is first quarter, Tuesday second quarter.' We've got to have a good practice every single week and it's helped us. It's translated pretty well.

"They've never practiced as hard as they can every single day. But that's something we have to build on, and I think we've done a good job of that. We've got three (victories) out of (the last) four. Hopefully, we can continue that."

The rookie head coach knows it's not only the teenagers who have to learn, though.

Smith, who served as a graduate assistant coach under Painter for one season after his playing career ended, has made mistakes that have cost his team. In a buzzer-beater loss early in the season, Smith said he had a player in lined up in the wrong spot. He's noticed more coaching errors after watching game film, which he typically does for about four hours on Sundays, and he almost always shares those mistakes with his players.

"I come into practice the next day after being all ticked off at the team, and I watched the film, and I'm like, 'Well, I screwed up there, I screwed up there,' " he said. "And I tell those guys, 'If you're a winner, when you lose, you think about the stuff you did wrong. When you win, everyone else is all right.' "

Expect maybe the officials.

Learning to find the line in that relationship can be tricky.

Smith probably should have gotten his first technical in that game Friday against Clinton Central, he admitted afterward, after being what he said was the most animated he'd been all season.

After a foul against his team in the second quarter, Smith zipped toward the official, clapping hard while saying, "That's just playing hard!" He wore a grimace while stalking the sideline.

Just before the half when Smith's player seemed to get tripped on a play - but didn't get the foul - he nearly ran onto the court after the official, arms outstretched.

In the second half after another foul against Clinton Prairie, Smith called out one official, asking where the foul was, saying "he was straight up." The official at least responded with a visit to the sideline, intimating that the foul came when the player bumped his opponent with his stomach. Smith's reaction to that explanation: Turn quickly and walk the other direction, muttering under his breath. Ultimately, he turned to his players and told them, "Let me worry about this. Stay in the game."

Smith certainly made sure to get a couple more complaints in.

"He's pushing him the whole possession!" he yelled. "He's got a right to be pissed. You've got to watch him the whole possession!"

And, finally, the topper late in the game - with Clinton Prairie winning by double digits - after a block/charge call went against the Gophers, Smith ripped off his jacket and flung it to the ground. "How do you not call that? It's a momentum killer, man!" That drew a stern look from an official but no technical.

The jacket toss, though?

"This isn't the first time. You saw the managers knew what to do with it - they just folded it up and put it nicely," Smith said with a smile.

Even with the challenges of rebuilding a program, Smith is doing a lot of smiling these days.

He's right where he wants to be.

"I've grown up with basketball. My first camp was when I was almost three-and-a-half. If I were to do something else, I would lose my mind," he said. "It's a lot of pressure, but it's so fun. I look forward to 3 o'clock every single day. I love it. I come in here, the guys are ready to go. They're amped up.

"It's fun just giving them a good experience."

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