Learning curve: Chris Smith reflects on 1st year as head coach at PNG

Published 7:30 am Monday, March 2, 2020

Chris Smith’s first year as head coach of the Port Neches-Groves boys basketball team has been quite the learning curve, for him and his players.

Smith introduced the Indians to a new style of man defense and while the senior-heavy team still lacked experience at the beginning of the season, Smith says his players grew tremendously. That growth will lessen the curve for next year.

“We’re going to continue playing in the spring, playing in the summer and get ready for next year,” Smith said. “Their basketball IQ has gotten better, and I think that’s going to help us in the future.”

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The Indians lost to bi-district playoff opponent Crosby on Tuesday 61-50, ending their season, 14-20, as District 21-5A’s fourth place seed. Foul trouble and turnovers in the third quarter cost the Indians their one point lead at the half, despite solid ball-handling and control in the first two quarters.

“We were right there, we had our opportunity,” Smith said. “We got it back in the fourth quarter within five or six and had a shot to get it to a one-possession game, and we missed it. Then they made free throws down the stretch to close it out.”

One thing the Indians had to learn this year was finishing out their games, and Smith saw PNG become more proficient towards the end of district play. Smith’s squad managed to put away close games against Vidor (42-32) and Cleveland (40-37) at the end of the regular season.

“We didn’t learn how to finish games early,” he said. “I think we did that at the end of district, especially when we beat Vidor and Cleveland. We closed them out, so I think our kids grew.”

Smith, himself, grew. Along with heading the basketball team, a head coach must handle many other responsibilities.

“I found out the work that comes into it is a lot — preparation, scouting, game planning,” he said.

Lessons learned, Smith expects himself and his team to pick it back up quicker, and he expects many of his juniors to step up and fill the roles that key seniors have filled this past season.

Senior Khristian Curtis, who heads to Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship, was one of the Indians’ most dependable players, and Smith hopes junior Grant Pearson can fill Curtis’ shoes, especially with his height.

Smith also hopes AJ Shelton will step up when Noah Marchak graduates, as well. Along with juniors Brady Nail and Kenneth Muller, Smith is counting on his returners.

“I think that with our young kids coming up and with a great freshmen group, we’re going to have some young kids stepping up and we’re going to be right back into the thick of it next year,” he said.

They’ll know what they’re doing next year and be ready, Smith believes.

“Our record might not show the growth that we had, and 14 wins is not bad, but it easily could have been 19-20 if we’d learned how to close those games out earlier,” he said. “I think that was a big key for us, and I think next year we won’t have that learning curve. I think we’ll be right where we need to be and I think those close games will probably fall our way.”