February 28, 2009

Red Devils have been here before

Great Falls boys basketball coach John Smith knows the drill.

In his 40 seasons at the Class A school a few miles off I-77 in Chester County, Smith has taken his Red Devils to the Upper State championship game at least 16 times. But most years it was played at a high school in the Columbia area, not in a big facility like Greenville's BI-LO Center, host for all eight Upper State games this weekend.

The game could be in Timbuktu as far as Smith is concerned. His priorities are to get his team ready for Landrum and make sure his players know they have to do the things they've done all year, things that got them here with a 25-1 record.

Landrum is 24-1. Smith admits he didn't know anything about Landrum after his team crushed Hunter-Kinard-Tyler on Tuesday in the third round. By Wednesday afternoon, he knew the Cardinals like he knows the back of his hand.

That's Smith. Never look ahead until it's time to do so. He has studied video of Cardinals games and has broken down every detail of what they do.

The game unfolds at 12:45 p.m. today, following the Class A girls game between Christ Church and Hunter-Kinard-Tyler.

"It will be an interesting game for us," Smith said. "They average 79 points a game. We average 61. Landrum transitions out of its zone defenses, so we have to be back to stop the break. They don't miss many shots. They are sound fundamentally and don't beat themselves.

"They have exactly what a championship-caliber team needs, a good player at the point, at the wing and at the post. If you cheat on one, the other two can hurt you."

In three playoff games, Great Falls has allowed 35, 31 and 42 points, an average of 36 a game. The Red Devils have scored 67, 58 and 69 points, an average of 64.6.

Landrum has scored 90, 63 and 71, a 74.6 average. The Cardinals have allowed 39, 40 and 56, which rounds out to 45 a game.

Smith said the teams are about even in size. The Cardinals' post player is 6-foot-5 Alex Wilson, who averages 21 points. He does most of his scoring inside, but can step out and drill 3-pointers.

The wing is Shaun Hall, who Smith said averages around 12 points. The point player is Jacob Hatchette, who averages 13 points.

Smith's team is led by Class A all-state players Leroy Roseboro and Torrey Craig. But Smith has a luxury he's had during his best seasons, 10 players who can start. He'll substitute five for five, with the "Big Red," as the second five is called, coming in as a unit. Depth could be a factor that favors Great Falls; fresh legs on the court at all times and a weapon against foul trouble.

"Landrum is not a high-octane jet team," Smith said. "We'll be a step quicker. The key for us is to hit shots from the perimeter against their 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones and play good defense. We have to dictate the flow of the game. If our defense can contain Hall off the drive, we will be OK."

That's Smith again. He prepares perhaps better than any coach in the state. A bold statement indeed, but he holds the state record for career wins by a boys coach, with 815. He's been to 16 state championship games. And he knows that his next loss could be his last at Great Falls.

Smith is uncertain of his fate, but he doesn't dwell on it. The Chester County School District is seeking ways to trim its budget to make up for an unexpected shortfall of funds. Part of the plan includes terminating working retirees. Eight have already gone. Smith is among the 40 on the list when the plan was drawn up.

But that's a story for another day. As stated above, Smith doesn't allow himself to look ahead. His main concerns are having his players ready for their next game, and if they win, get them ready for the next one, which would be next Saturday in Columbia against the Lower State champ for the state title.

And like they have done before, the good folks in Great Falls will pack their cars and head to Greenville this morning. The town of Great Falls should be on lockdown today. Red Devils fans travel well to support their basketball team.

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