1st year coach Smith guided Alta boys to record season
At just 26, Alta boys basketball coach Bart Smith was one of the youngest prep cage coaches in Northwest Iowa this season.
But he avoided the pitfalls of being young while taking advantage of it at the same time.
"Bart established respect from our kids early on, during our summer leagues," said one of Smith's assistants, Dean Lietz. "He was honest with them and told them they had to work hard for their goals. They responded to that and bought into some of the new wrinkles he brought to the program.
"And being so young, I think Bart was able to communicate well with the kids well while still maintaining their respect."
Alta didn't return a starter from last year, although seniors Brad Payne and Kylor Cone did see lots of playing time last year as juniors.
That didn't seem to matter. Under the able guidance of Smith, the Cyclones went 14-0 in the Northwest Conference, winning their first league title in 18 years.
The Cyclones didn't stop there. They went on to win three tournament games, including a 20-point thrashing of undefeated and fifth-ranked West Bend Mallard at substate.
Alta gave second-ranked Bellevue-Marquette a few scares before falling in a Class 1A opening round state tourney game in Des Moines. An Alta boys basketball team hadn't been to state in 21 seasons, and it finished with a 21-4 mark.
For his outstanding job this season, Smith was an easy choice for this year's Pilot-Tribune's All-Area Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
Smith told the Pilot Tribune Sunday night that he sat down with each Alta player before the season to discuss individual and team goals, also giving each a sense of what role he would play.
Smith made it clear to each player that what they wrote on those goal sheets mattered.
"Anybody can write down some goals, and then just forget about them and never accomplish them," Smith said. "I just told the kids that they had to work hard to reach them, and that it wasn't going to be easy."
Smith started by stressing defense first, a skill that is as much about intensity and competitiveness as it is about talent.
"We played good defense all season, and we could always rely on that being consistent," Smith said. "We also stressed giving 100 percent in practices as well as games."
He added that at the beginning of the season, a state tournament berth seemed like a distant goal. But a week or two after the Christmas break, he and the team started believing.
"We had to go to Pomeroy, and they were on a six-game winning streak," Smith said. "I remember being concerned about that game, especially playing at their place.
"We wound up beating them by 20 points. That's probably when I started thinking, 'maybe this team can put a nice run together at the end of the season.'"
Offensively, Alta was guard-oriented. Payne and junior guard Tyler Boyd were the top scorers, but the Cyclones went nine or ten players deep. Each night, a number of different players could lead the way.
In the win over West Bend Mallard, reserve post player Colin Huseman, for example, came up with a 22- point effort.
"It's been a great ride," Smith said, adding that assistants Lietz and former BVU basketball standout Randy Bissen were instrumental to the team's success.
"We had great support from our administration at Alta and from the community," he added. "I think people like to watch kids who play hard, and our guys did that this season."
If Smith seems beyond his year's in coaching tactics and with his ability to motivate, he's had a bit of a head start.
While he was growing up in Guthrie Center, his dad Steve was the girls basketball coach and the school district superintendent as well.
Bart says he remembers tagging along with his dad to practices and to the gym on weekends.
"I was around coaching and I think that helped," he said. Bart says this season, he would talk to his dad about how he should handle certain situations on the Cyclones.
"My dad was a big influence, but I also picked up a lot of things from my high school football coach (Brent Meier)," he said.
"I also learned a lot from the football coaches at BVU, Coach (Steve) Osterberger and Larry and Jay Anderson."
Smith added that he reads a lot about coaching and on successful coaches at college and other levels.
He added that coaching tactics at all levels are changing all the time, and he tries to keep up with new ideas as well as old ones.
"I think you still keep learning about coaching," he said.
Smith says he's content at staying at Alta for the future, but wouldn't hazard a guess as to where he might be in ten years.
Lietz, meanwhile added insight into Smith's success this year.
"Bart is a bit of a disciplinarian," Lietz said. "He'll get on someone who's not doing something right, but he's the first one to pat a player on the back for a good play.
"The main thing is, if you aren't willing to give 100 percent in every practice and game, you won't be playing," Lietz said.
"Our kids bought into that and it took them a long way."