Gene Smith remembers the instant experts who bent his ear during a quarter-century tenure that produced four state basketball titles.
He’s not about to put Dan Smith through the same wringer.
So when Gene Smith visits Reardan practices these days, or takes in one of the handful of Indians games he sees each year, it’s not for the purpose of setting Dan Smith (no relation) straight.
“It’s his team,” Gene Smith said last week as Reardan prepared for its 20th game - and 20th win. “If he asks me, I’m always willing to help. But I don’t want to interfere or mix anybody up.”
Reardan, under second-year coach Dan Smith, has resurrected the glory years it saw with Gene Smith. The Indians (20-0), the unanimous choice for No. 1 in the latest Associated Press poll, begin their Bi-County League tournament schedule Saturday against either Liberty or Wilbur-Creston.
Reardan won the Bi-County tourney last year, but lost its first two games at the District 7-B tourney to miss the State B for the fourth straight year.
Gene Smith, who guided the state-title teams of 1970, ‘71, ‘74 and ‘82, retired after the 1992-93 season, one year after Reardan’s last state appearance.
Smith’s former player, Andy Schultz, took over in 1993-94 and experienced two subpar years by Reardan’s standards. The fortunate stars never lined up for Schultz.
Top prospect Mark Busse, a sophomore when Schultz began, became ill with lung cancer. He died in 1995.
Under Schultz too many seniors, the cornerstones of most Reardan teams, were football players masquerading as basketball players.
“When I was a sophomore I played varsity with (Schultz’s final) team,” said Reardan senior Nate Graham. “We weren’t as motivated as we should have been. We were still at a stage where we expected to win and didn’t think we had to work at it.”
Last season, Reardan promoted Dan Smith from the junior varsity position he held for one year. Smith, who played for Rogers High, Community Colleges of Spokane and Whitworth College, set to work infusing the team with Gene Smith touches.
One of those touches included visits from the master himself.
“It’s nice to have him come in,” said junior post James Kiger, the team’s top rebounder and defensive wizard. “He shows us different kinds of defenses.”
Gene Smith lives near Lake Roosevelt these days and spends much of his time in contemplation of rainbow trout. He had to laugh the time a friend, upon hearing that a Smith was coaching Reardan, assumed Gene had returned from his extended fishing break.
Few introductions were necessary because many on the roster served as Smith’s managers five years ago.
“These kids remind me of the smaller, quicker kids I used to have,” Smith said. “The ones who, more than anything, played with a lot of hustle. And this group shoots better than most.”
Dan Smith calculates the shooting percentage at 54 percent for the season. The Indians shot nearly 70 percent from the floor during their Dec. 3 season opener, a 72-64 decision over Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls. Lakeside has clinched the Northeast A League title and is ranked seventh in this week’s AP poll.
“I have six guys who can hit double figures on any given night,” Dan Smith said. “Sometimes in practice I’ll be guarding (Kiger) and I’ll get burned because it’s too hard to watch everyone.”
Leading scorer Travis Titchenal, a senior co-captain with Graham, said balanced scoring is the main difference between this year and last. The 1995-96 Indians were centered around Robb Soliday, often waiting for their senior to pull the strings.
“If I’m not scoring and other people are, then I feel fine,” Titchenal said. “Then I’ll just pick it up on the defensive end.”
Defense has been a Reardan tradition since the first state title, under coach Frank Teverbaugh, in 1966. Larry Soliday starred on that team and is always willing to tell son Rhett, the team’s point guard, and his friends about hustle, desire and diving for loose balls.
Some of the current players find it amusing when old-timers want to preach a little hoop, but it’s hard not to soak up the Reardan mystique. Kiger, who moved in from the Elk area six years ago, claims he knew nothing about the school’s basketball success at first. But any visit to the Soliday household will cure that.
Or to the Graham household. Reardan football and track and field coach Dan Graham assisted Gene Smith for nearly two decades. Nate is the fourth and final son the Grahams have put through the Reardan system.
“After a game Dad will say, ‘Back when I was coaching, if I saw you (fail to screen off) I’d pull you out of the game,” Nate Graham said. “But I like it a lot. It’s kind of like having another coach.”
Not that Reardan needs another.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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