John Smith is in his 42nd season coaching the boys basketball team at Great Falls High School and the number that jumps out most are his 864 career wins.
The victories are the most ever by a boys' coach in the state. The number that gets overlooked is 21. That's how many times, half his seasons, Smith has taken the Red Devils to the Upper State championship game.
Sixteen brought wins and Great Falls advanced to the state championship, winning six times. He hopes that success continues against Abbeville in the Class A Upper State title game at Greenville's Bi-Lo Center.
"We put so much effort into beating Calhoun County on Tuesday that we can't allow a letdown,'' Smith said. "We have to realize that the other guys will be wearing jerseys with Abbeville on the front and that they play a completely opposite game than Calhoun County.
"They (Calhoun Co.) are relentless. They run up and down the court full speed and pressure you the whole game. Abbeville runs a controlled zone on defense and try to keep teams 20 feet way from the basket. And they are a good rebounding team, often limiting their opponents to one shot each time down the court. So we'll have to be on, have to hit our jumpers and find a way to work the ball inside.''
It's been the same story for Smith, who turns 64 in July, and his Red Devils so often that he could almost patent his remarks. Calhoun County and Great Falls have battled so many time in the past that when they have, the next game seemed almost anticlimactic. Not this year.
Smith graduated four starters and two senior reserves from last year's team that made it to the championship but lost to Hemingway. The group included Tori Craig, who is lighting it up as a freshman at USC Upstate. Craig is the NCAA's sixth leading freshman scorer and is near the top in rebounding. Smith said his former star is proving wrong coaches who felt he couldn't play Division I basketball.
But Smith is not one to dwell on numbers. He always locked in on the task ahead.
the make-up of this year's team is different than most he's had. The Red Devils are averaging 70 point; giving up just 45.
"We have four players, Xavier Holmes, Alstevis Squirewell, Shaq Simpson and Ernest Talford scoring in double figures,'' Smith said. "Holmes in particular has risen his game over the last few weeks. But this year other teams can't concentrate on Tori or stopping guard Isaiah Lynn because they have to watch everybody.
"We sometimes get going slowly on offense and we are a lot better on defense. But every game it seems like one person will step up and lead us on offense and the others will join in. We can't wait for our offense to get going against Abbeville because they have five very athletic teams.
Abbeville's leader is point guard Jay Jackson, described by Smith as the true basketball player on the Panthers' team. But it's not wise to spend too much time concentrating on Jackson because LaQuavas Watt, a 6-2 defensive back who played in the Shrine Bowl and signed a football scholarship with Butler Community College in Kansas, and 6-7 center Keelon Lee eat teams alive under the boards.
Abbeville moved down from Class AA to Class A this season after having gone 24-0 last year with basically the same players before losing to Southside in the Upper State championship game. This year's team comes in with a 24-3 record.
Great Falls went 10-0 and won its region again. The Red Devils are 23-3.