By Tommy Keeler Jr.
QUICKSBURG -- At the beginning of the boys basketball season, Stonewall Jackson boys basketball coach Patrick Smoot was very honest with his players. The goal this year wasn't about the wins and losses, it was about being more competitive, doing things the right way and gaining some respect.
Smoot was able to get his players to succeed in every way that he wanted.
"I was very upfront, I was very honest," Smoot said. "I didn't try to blow smoke or make them believe in something that wasn't going to work. I tried to stay very positive with them and make sure they knew I had confidence in them and they just needed somebody to believe in them -- someone else. And then when they went out on the court, they had to prove it to themselves. By them staying close and busting their butts in practice every day and busting butts in the game, they proved to themselves that they were confident and that they could play. They fed off of it."
The Generals struggled to win any games over the previous few seasons, winning only once in three years.
Not only were the Generals losing, but they were losing by wide margins most of the time. From the start of the season, Smoot, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2012-13 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, knew his players just needed to get a taste of being in some close games to start to get the program over the hump.
In the first game of the season, the Generals lost by only eight points to a talented Strasburg squad. In the next game Stonewall Jackson played Strasburg again, but this time the Generals lost by 26 points.
Smoot said it was good for the players to see that turning things around wasn't going to be easy.
In the next game, they played Central tough before losing, 74-57.
"I told them at the end I really started to see things turn aound after we played Central the first time," Smoot said. "I know that we still lost that game, but the kids played with a lot of passion, a lot of excitement, a lot of energy and that's kind of where we started our turnaround for our season."
The victories started with a win over a solid Eastern Mennonite squad on Dec. 10. Then the Generals lost their Shenandoah District opener to East Rockingham in overtime. Stonewall Jackson hadn't won a district game since 2007, but on Dec. 14 the Generals beat Buffalo Gap, 57-50.
They followed that up with wins over Riverheads and Luray and even gave Page County, the top team in the district, a hard-fought battle.
"They did answer the call in terms of all the games being close," Smoot said. "There were very few games that I would consider a blowout. So overall goal -- absolutely we reached it. Now seven wins, that exceeds what we expected, but that's attributed to the kids and how hard they pushed and worked this season. It was definitely a fun time for Stonewall basketball."
Smoot knows plenty about Stonewall Jackson basketball. He played there under his father, Ron, who was head coach at the school for 27 years.
Smoot said he learned a lot from his dad, and it was a big honor for him to take over a program his dad had coached.
"This was a kind of a surreal moment or opportunity for me to come back here," Smoot said. "It's kind of a tough position to fill, when you look at what he did. It was an honor to kind of say we'd been in the same situation, kind of following in his footsteps. He was always, this year especially, very helpful if I had questions and we'd talk. He'd explain things to me and I'd explain things to him."
Another coaching role model for Smoot is head football coach Dick Krol. Smoot is an assistant for Krol in both football and track and field.
Smoot said he took some of the things he learned from Krol in football and used them with the basketball team.
"When you coach, I do believe that no matter what sport you coach, you can learn from other people, even if they don't have a clue what's going on with basketball," Smoot said. "And coach Krol will be the first to tell you basketball's not his cup of tea. But the kind of philosophies and stuff that he brought in for football, I still think hold true to every sport that you play or coach and the standards that you need to believe in. And I brought those along with me."
Smoot also had plenty of experience by his side this year in the form of assistant coach Roger Wilkins, who had coached boys and girls basketball at Central for 31 years.
Smoot said he especially leaned on Wilkins on the offensive side of the ball.
"When coach Wilkins came in and we sat down I said, 'Coach, this is my practice schedule and this is what I'd like to do,'" Smoot said. "Offensively I really don't know a whole lot. I said, 'I'll be the defensive coordinator and you be the offensive coordinator and let's kind of work this thing here and see what goes on.'"
Now that the Generals have gained more respect throughout the region and in their district, Smoot said the next step is to build off of what they did this year and get more victories.
"Now where we need to go is we need to increase our basketball knowledge and our in-game play," Smoot said. "We have a group that's very capable of doing that. We lose two seniors, who we are going to miss. They each brought a different tangible to the game. It's hard to replace. But we have a core group of juniors and sophomores that are coming back that we can build off of and make this next step in our process. Now our goal has become a little more defined. It's not, let's go out here and see what happens. It's now, you're expected. You're not the underdog anymore. We're not in the cellar of the district. Teams are going to game plan for us, so how do we respond?"
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org