May 15, 2021

Times-Georgian profiles new HCHS varsity basketball coach

Courtesy of Kenyata Hendrix and the Times-Georgian

(Franklin, GA) — Heard County High School has been on a search for a new head boys’ basketball coach, and has found a jewel in coach Derek Smith.

With Liberty University — where he received his master’s degree — as a common factor in his and athletic director Shane Lasseter’s relationship, that opened the door for an initial conversation about Smith’s future at Heard County.

New Brave varsity basketball coach Derek Smith (Photo courtesy of Mason Wittner/Times-Georgian)

After one visit to the Braves’ territory, he felt as though it was where he wanted to be. It was perfect.

“It’s much better than you would expect a Class AA school to be,” Smith said. “Especially facilities, how the people are, how the kids are, how the school’s run. It’s run almost like a private school.”

He raved about how impressed he was and how he probably would not get an opportunity as special as the one before him for a while.

Before that, Smith had never been to Franklin or Carroll County, but says that after playing at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, “Being in a smaller town is something I’m familiar with, because Americus is tiny.”

After graduating from St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, he attended Anderson University in South Carolina, where he ran track and played basketball.

Smith then transferred to Georgia Southwestern and dropped track to focus strictly on basketball. Following his time with the Hurricanes, he got into coaching and was able to work full-time while taking online courses in order to complete his master’s degree at Liberty.

Smith spent two years as the coach of the freshman team at Dunwoody High School, two years as an assistant varsity coach at Dunwoody and one year as a JV and assistant varsity coach at Lakeside High School.

Now set to enter his sixth season instructing prep basketball teams, the young coach has big plans for the Braves both on and off the court.

He’s excited and passionate about his responsibilities as a coach, and his inspiration comes from his father, Rick Smith.

“My dad coached me in rec league,” Smith said with a giggle. “He coached me in middle school, and then I go to Pius and somehow he managed to get on the staff there. He coached me all the way through high school until I got to college.”

Following his high school career, Smith added that he would come back during the summers and help his dad coach his teams and participate in drills with the players.

This young, family-driven man takes pride in his relationship with his dad, his wife, Deandra Smith, and their quiet puppy –Danger.

During his free time, Smith finds time to play basketball in a mens’ league in Atlanta, attends movies with his wife and plays a ton of video games, as well.

Just like a relationship with his family is important, Smith puts emphasis on the relationship with his boys and believes the relationship off the court is more important than what takes place on the court.

Establishing a relationship is his top priority.

Smith asked, “If they don’t feel that you actually care about them, then how much effort can they really put in on the court?”

He lauded about shooting contests, video game parties, watch parties for The NBA Finals and other activities that will assist with team bonding and help his players get to know one another.

Once the relationship is established, Smith has big plans for the Braves and hopes they can adjust to the style he has in mind. For his first year as head coach, he aims to get kids excited about playing and being competitive right away.

Offensively, the focus for Smith is to produce a lot of movement due to his crew’s lack of size. He plans to input a dribble-drive style of play with four combo guards and one true post player.

Heard County tipped off summer practice at the beginning of June, and Smith has already begun to notice improvement in his new team. He says the abilities of rising junior Ayden Cannon has played a major role in this summer’s success.

After losing star athlete Alijah Huzzie to graduation, rising sophomore Jameer Cook and rising junior Ashton Bonner will take over the point guard position for the Braves next year. Smith is confident that they will step up to the plate and fill the enormous shoes Huzzie left behind.

But before they can do that, he understands this team must buy into the concept that there won’t be a lone player who can replace a transcendent talent like Huzzie overnight. Instead, the Braves will look to emulate his offensive contributions by committee.

“The toughest thing for these guys so far is that they’re learning we may have a different guy score 15 [points] every game,” Smith said. “It’s not going to be one guy getting 20 shots every game. It’s a bit different than the past few yeas when they had a player as good as Alijah and they ran a lot of isolation. It’s tough for them to grasp, but it’s working.”

The Braves finished with an overall record of 9-15 last winter. They were No. 4 in Region 5-AA play with a record of 6-6 and advanced to the Class AA state playoffs, but were given a first-round exit with a 62-52 loss to eventual state semifinalist Elbert County High School.

Smith feels with continuous work and practice, they will continue to get better and become the team he knows they can be.

“We’re going to be tough to beat,” he said with a confident look in his eyes.

So, though there’s a new sheriff in town, the expectations are the same, and perhaps a little higher.

With a new coach, a new style and fresh energy on their side, look out for the Heard County Braves, and stay tuned for what’s in store in Smith’s first season.

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