Coaching is nothing new to Nevada Smith, who took over the lead role for the Skyforce this season, becoming the 19th head coach in franchise history.
“Every new opportunity is exciting, and just with the background of everything they’ve done here, having come off of a 40-10 championship season is exciting,” said Smith in an interview prior to the season. “The HEAT and the Skyforce have taken a chance on me… what I can do is repay them with hard work.”
Before joining the Skyforce, Smith served as the head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for two seasons spanning from 2013-15, finishing with an overall record of 57-43. He’s also compiled up to 11 years of previous coaching experience, coaching at Keystone College in Le Plume, Pennsylvania, Ithaca College, Allegheny College, Canton, and St. Lawrence University dating back to the 2002-03 season.
Smith entered the season with a tough task: following a season in which the Skyforce achieved an NBA D-League-best 40-10 regular season record, and then proceeded to follow that up with their first championship since becoming a member of the NBA D-League, and third overall.
One thing unique to the Skyforce team from a season ago was despite having an abundance of talent, much of their team was able to stay intact for nearly the entire season. Briante Weber earned NBA Gatorade Call Ups to the Memphis Grizzlies and the Miami HEAT near the end of the season, serving as the team’s only two call ups on the year.
This year’s roster has been a revolving door, as the organization has looked for answers after losing Okaro White to the Miami HEAT for the rest of the season in early January, while Briante Weber has earned four-consecutive 10-day contracts over the past month, splitting call ups between the Golden State Warriors and the Charlotte Hornets. Yet, that’s part of the nature of coaching in the D-League.
Now with a 44-game sample size and a 26-18 record in Sioux Falls, we had the opportunity to catch up with Smith near the end of his inaugural season as head coach of the Skyforce to get his thoughts on how the year has gone to this point.
With now only six games left in the regular season and an eye toward getting back into the playoff picture, what are some things you think the team has done well, and what are some things we need to improve on down the home stretch?
“I think we have competed well and are continuing to improve every day. We’ve got a fun group of players that embraces the process of working hard and getting better. I think the biggest thing we need to work on is our consistency. We need to play to the best of our ability for the full 48 minutes each time we step onto the floor.”
Over the course of the season, how have you been able to incorporate your own spin on the Miami HEAT system? As evidenced by the ease of Okaro White’s transition to the NBA, how have you prepared players for an easy transition to the next level?
“There has been a great synergy that has been built over the past two seasons between the Sioux Falls Skyforce and the Miami HEAT. We are working constantly to make sure everything we do here is in accordance to how it is done in Miami. We mold what we do around the talent that we have, so some things are a little bit different, but terminology and how we teach it stays the same throughout.”
How has your coaching staff grown as a unit throughout the season? How have assistant coaches Anthony Carter and Kasib Powell helped you from both a player development and a strategy standpoint?
“Both [Anthony Carter and Kasib Powell] have been awesome. We have a great staff from AC and Kasib, to Brian Lankton (Director of Basketball Operations) and Dustin Schramm (trainer). Everyone has been on the same page, and we all share the same goals in improving players and ourselves each and every day. The work [Carter and Powell] have done with development of our players has been terrific. They are two of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around.”
We’ve had a lot of roster turnover in the last few weeks. What do the recent additions of Larry Drew II, Greg Whittington, and Kadeem Jack bring to the table as we make a push for the playoffs?
“They all bring something different to the team. Larry and Greg bring with them a familiarity to what has been done in the past, and the culture we’ve built here in Sioux Falls. They are both great basketball players who we will lean on down the stretch. Kadeem gives us athleticism at the forward position, something that we haven’t had this year. He is a very skilled big man who is extremely athletic. The best thing about all of these guys is that they are all high-quality people, and have been great additions to the team.”