Latest News

Great Falls Red Devils ready for another Class A state championship game

It would be tempting to take the easy way out and write about Great Falls boys basketball coach John Smith and his 19th trip to the Class A state championship on Saturday.

His state record career 892 wins coaching the Red Devils boys; his 43 years as Great Falls' coach; squeezing his 6-foot-7 frame under the wheel and driving his team to away games; that he's had only one technical foul in his career.

And there was a referee from another part of the state who showed up one night for a playoff game. Smith he extended his hand and said: "Glad to meet you I'm John Smith and my wife (Ann) keeps our book." The ref smiled and said, "and let me guess, her name is Pocahontas.''

Smith is quite a character; has a great sense of humor, gives reporters all the quotes they need after one question, can coach the heck out of his sports but realizes its a game and that the team that plays best wins.

Great Falls has won seven state championships under Smith and is making its fourth straight trip to Columbia's Colonial Center, home of the South Carolina Gamecocks, and plays Johnsonville in the 12:30 p.m. game.

Smith said top to bottom this year's 26-1 team is one of his strongest. Beyond that, he runs down the list of Johnsonville's strengths and those of his team.

But for the four players - Xavier Holmes, Shaq Simpson, Ernest Talford and Brandon Criscoe - he brought to Monday's press conference at the S.C. High School League office in Columbia, were ready to play the game that day.

Great Falls lost in the title game to Alshon Jeffery-led Calhoun County three years ago, lost to Hemingway two years ago and beat Burke last year.

"We want to go out two and two,'' said Holmes, Class A's Co-Player of the Year. "We prefer playing the up-tempo game and so does Johnsonville. But the key is going to be our height advantage. If me and Jemarcus (Culp) do a good job crashing the boards on our end and holding them to one shot on their end, we should win.''

Johnsonville (21-5) is not the kind of up-tempo team Great Falls normally faces. The Flashes mix defenses and use their speed to create points off steals.

"Johnsonville will run the floor, but they are very impressive on defense,'' Smith said. "Most times they will pick you up in half court and jump you outside with half-court traps as soon as you get the ball over the line.

"They can press full court and will at times slip into various zones. Because we are taller, we will have to get second and third shots if we miss the first. If not and they get the ball, they are very quick getting it to the other end of the floor.''

Holmes is 6-5, Culp 6-2. The Red Devils can bring 6-4 Clark Schofield and 6-3 Nates Talford off the bench.

At 6-2, Antron Davis is Johnsonville's tallest player. The smallest, 5-6 Erion Black, is a big concern for Smith. He controls the ball and keys the pressure, Smith said. And he is so quick that at times it's like having three of him on the floor.

He is the Flashes' leading scorer with 15.4 points a game and is tops with 5.6 assists. Balance is a big part of Johnsonville's success. Coach Harris Avant's team goes 11 deep and averages 73.2 points per outing.

While familiarity with the Colonial Center is on Great Falls' side, newness has the Flashes excited. Johnsonville has never played in a boys basketball championship game.

"Being the first is good motivation for us,'' said Aaron Mack, a 5-11 small forward with an 11.0 points average. "Most of our players have been together since middle school, including our starters and players off the bench.

"We start four seniors and a junior. We score a lot of points off our transition game, so we like to run the floor. It's our game, and after watching video of Great Falls, it's theirs too.''

Great Falls averages slightly more points than Johnsonville, but not that many with 73.4. And bvalance is also a strong suit for the Red Devils, who have four starters scoring in double figures and two in double figures rebounding.

Simpson is bursting with confidence, not cockiness but confidence in him and his teammates. The Red Devils are 100-7 the last four seasons, with only two losses in the previous three.

At only 5-9, Simpson is to Great Falls what Black is to Johnsonville, a small guard who can handle the ball and disrupt on defense.

"I might be just 5-9, but I play like I'm 6-4,'' Simpson said. "We have to play our best defense in this one. We have to stop them out front and keep them from going to the basket. And we have to protect the ball to keep them from getting easy baskets. The are very quick.

"Our motto all years has been: TEAM

T for do the things it takes to win.

E for effort; give all you have every second on the floor.

A for all together. Every player on the team is important.

M for mind control; if you don't have it you are not going to win.

"If we can do those things one more time, we will be state champions.''