March 23, 2018

NAC Spotlight: Miles Smith, Johnson

Miles Smith just finished his third season as the head men’s basketball coach at Johnson, his alma mater, and he has seen great progress throughout his first three seasons at the helm.

In his first season, the Badgers posted a 10-17 overall record, winning more games in his first year than the team combined for the previous two seasons. Johnson earned the number three seed in the 2016 NAC Tournament, earning the right to host in the quarterfinals. His squad won their first round game, but missed out on the championship final as they lost by four points in overtime in the semifinals. Following his first season, Miles was named NAC Coach of the Year and had two players garner second team all-conference honors. His team then recorded 18 wins over the following two seasons.

His Background: Miles, a Philadelphia native, first came to Johnson State as a student, transferring over his junior year to focus on academics and continue to play collegiate basketball. Majoring in Anthropology and Sociology, Miles enjoyed the distraction free environment Johnson had to offer. Playing in 51 games during his two seasons with Johnson, he achieved success on the basketball court, starting in all 26 games as a senior and leading the Badgers to the North Atlantic Conference Tournament.  A tenacious and suffocating defender, Miles averaged 3.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, while blocking 30 shots and collecting 29 steals in his career. 

After graduating from Johnson, Miles started his coaching career at Mercer Country Community College as an assistant. He then spent one year as an assistant at The College of New Jersey before being hired as the head coach at Wilson College. Miles was given the opportunity to start the men’s basketball program at Wilson, as the school was transitioning from all-women’s to co-ed. Soon after, the head coaching position at Johnson became available and Miles jumped at the opportunity to return to his alma mater.  

Learn more about Miles:

Tell us a little about your experience as a student at Johnson. Has much changed?
“My experience at Johnson was amazing. I am originally from Philadelphia so going to a place that had little to know distraction for me was great. I transferred into Johnson as a junior and was able to focus on academics and be a part of the men’s basketball program. I had some of the most amazing professors that taught me a lot. Professor Jerry Himelstein, N.E. Bou-Nacklie, and Susan Green were probably the best professors at Johnson, they could have taught anywhere in the country in my opinion. A lot of my coaching philosophy comes from what I learned from them.

As a student one of my best experiences outside of basketball was starting the drop and swap. I started this event as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. This was a two-day event where community members would drop off clothing items that they no longer wanted and the next day people could come pick up these items for free. This was an amazing event that involved student-athletes and residence life.

There have been a lot of changes since I left as a student including renovations to the varsity gym, a new café, and an upgrade to our Athletic Department. All of the changes that I have seen have been great for Johnson.”

How about your experience as a student-athlete at Johnson?
“My experience as a student-athlete was also amazing. I think during my time we had one of the best coaches in the conference in Coach Osbourne, who I still call for coaching advice. He will always be one of my coaching mentors. The best part about my experience is the strong bond I built with Coach Osbourne as his passion and commitment to Johnson were something I have never seen before. I always believed that Coach Osbourne treated Johnson as if it was Duke or University of North Carolina, he was very professional and demanded excellence from his student-athletes but also showed how much he cared for us both on and off the court. My teammates and friends made my experience at Johnson a home away from home. We all came from different backgrounds, but formed a great bond during my time as a student-athlete, whether we had good times or bad times, I loved every moment.”

You earned a degree in Anthropology and Sociology, what career did you have in mind?
“I always had this thought in my head that I would one day be a sociology professor. I loved to learn about different cultures and traditions. I always believe that it was a beautiful thing to try and find ways to adapt to another culture while also keeping the identity of yourself and your culture. I would definitely say I am different than most. Who would picture an African-American male coming to Johnson to study sociology to become a sociology professor? For me, it all made since. I took myself out of my culture being from Philadelphia and heading to Vermont. It was a huge culture change, but maybe the best decision I’ve made in life besides marrying the most amazing woman in the world.”

What was your career path after graduation?
“After I graduated, I began coaching as an assistant coach at Mercer County Community College where I previously received my Associates degree. I coached under Howard Levy who played for Princeton University. Under Coach Levy I found a passion for coaching and becoming a sociology professor was no longer my goal. I knew that I wanted to coach college basketball. I coached at Mercer County Community College for three seasons and then moved on as an assistant coach at The College of New Jersey. I coached one season under Coach Kelly Williams. My first Head Coaching job was at Wilson College which was an all-women’s college that was transitioning to co-ed and I started the first men’s basketball program. After my first year the Johnson position had come available so I jumped to the opportunity.”

What led you back to your alma mater?
“If you told me after I gradated that I would be Head Coach at Johnson I probably would have laughed at you. During my first year as an assistant coach, I applied for a job at Johnson and wanted to become an assistant under Coach Osbourne. I was turned down for that position by the current Athletic Director Jamey Ventura.  After being turned down, Jamey and I developed a strong relationship even though I never meet him, he actually helped me through my coaching career before I was hired at Johnson.  He provided me with advice as an assistant at The College of New Jersey and he also helped me through the entire interview process for the position at Wilson. When the job opened up at Johnson I was excited about the opportunity of coaching and building a program at my alma mater. For me, it was a dream come true. There is something very special about Johnson and you only can feel it when you’re on the campus. I have a saying, “once a badger always a badger” as this place never leaves your heart.”

What has been one of your biggest challenges being a head coach? What has been your biggest reward? 
“I am learning everyday as a head coach.

One of the biggest challenges has been getting all of my athletes to by in at all times. This can be tough for all coaches, while also having them understand the difference between talent and character, team attitude, and work ethic.

The biggest reward has been seeing all of my male student-athletes graduate. This year I am set to have seven seniors graduate.”

In your first season you were name NAC Coach of the Year, how did it feel to earn that honor?
“It was a great honor, especially being the youngest coach in the league. It was a great feeling to know that the great coaches in our league respected what I had done with the Johnson program.”

What are your goals for the future of the Johnson men’s basketball program?
“I am looking to build a strong winning tradition based off our five pillars: Humility, Unity, Passion, Thankfulness and Servanthood.

My main focus has to be on recruiting the right student-athletes to build Johnson’s program. I try to tell our guys, one day at a time. That yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift and that is why we call it the present. Every day is a new day for us as a program to learn and grow.”

How do you spend your time away from work?
"All of my time away from work is spent with my beautiful family. My amazing wife Crystal and our children Ishmael (6) and Elias (3). They also attend most of my practices and all homes games.”

---Spotlight series courtesy of NAC intern Kelsey Bragdon