CHARLESTOWN — The Charlestown boys’ basketball program has nine sectional titles to its credit, with four of those coming in the last 25 years. New head coach Sean Smith has returned looking for his second at the school — after guiding the Pirates to the 2008 crown — and he has an assistant coach, Ben Ledbetter, who has historic ties to the program.
Ledbetter, a retired former assistant principal at Charlestown and principal at New Washington, coached the Pirates over Jeffersonville in the final single-class Jeffersonville Sectional in 1997. He was also a standout Charlestown player in the 1960s, leading the team to a solid season in 1967 by averaging 19 points per game.
Ledbetter’s son BD is also on Smith’s staff, which is looking to rebuild a program that hasn’t won a sectional since Smith’s 20-4 team topped Silver Creek in the 2008 championship game.
Ben Ledbetter, who went on to play at The Citadel in college, said he’s excited to join Smith’s charge to bring enthusiasm, toughness and energy to the program.
“I’m thrilled to be back and honored to be asked to join, and maybe be able to contribute,” Ledbetter said. “Having played at Charlestown, and having coached at Charlestown before, knowing my son is working with Sean, and having worked with Sean before, the Ledbetter family is dedicated to Charlestown athletics.”
The chance to get his team on the floor in game situations as early as June is invaluable to a coach taking over a program. But it’s only the beginning, according to Smith, who went 85-89 in his first stint at Charlestown (2006-14) before spending four years at West Washington and last season at Providence.
“Here in June, there’s a lot of team stuff. You look at a situation you’re coming in and taking over a program, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s like, ‘Gosh, we’ve got all these different things we need to work on,’” Smith said. “We just have tried to narrow our focus to a couple things that we’re looking to establish some habits. We’ll try to build on those in our limited contact workouts. You can’t be good at everything. We’re trying to establish a framework and build habits of play, learning how to compete and play together and trying to learn from our mistakes.”
Bo Braunecker will be one key senior for the Pirates, who went 9-14 last season under Jason Connell, and Smith expects to have football standout Marion Lukes join the team as well, providing another strong all-around athlete to the mix.
Braunecker described Smith as bringing a new energy that he hopes all the players in the program can absorb.
“Coach Smith, [in the] first practice, you notice he has great energy. You weren’t dreading going to practice. It had a positive vibe to it. He’s all about team-building. We’ve had so many transfers move in and we hadn’t had time to build up chemistry,” Braunecker said.
In June, Charlestown had mixed results in the Kentuckiana Summer League, which is to be expected.
“I quit keeping track of summer records a long time ago,” said Smith, who has a 153-149 career mark as a head coach. “We’re just trying to lay foundation on some things offensively on things we’re going to look to do — just playing the game the right way. We’ve got a lot of little things we’ve got to get better at.”
Along with Braunecker, fellow forwards Caleb Brown and Devron West and guard Ashton Davis are among the returning players with the most experience. All four averaged between 5.3 and 6.8 points per game last season.
“There’s some pieces here. We can put together a pretty solid team in the season ... if we work at it,” Smith said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and November, both individually and as a team.”
Braunecker is positive and hopes to see the rest of his teammates buy into Smith’s approach.
“His philosophy is 'Pound the Rock' — get the ball inside and work inside-out, which I like, because I’m a post man. It opens stuff up through the post,” Braunecker said. “Sophomore year we had to rebuild and all of us have more varsity experience [now]. This third year, we should be ready for everything that’s coming. With his positive coaching, it should help the other players, and me, not get worn down.”
Ben Ledbetter hopes to assist in getting players to truly believe in the coaching staff.
“It’s just getting the kids to believe in the system. This is a new ballgame for them. Everything’s different than what the previous coaches did,” he said. “We’re just trying to install things. I’m really excited about what we have though, there’s some talent and some basketball instincts. They bring a little bit of experience. I’m excited about what we can do.”
The key, Smith said, is getting his team to understand that every day is an opportunity to get better.
“Trying to keep everything positive [will be key],” he said. “It’s easy [for kids] to get discouraged. It just takes time. We talk about the philosophy, the 'Pound-the-Rock' philosophy. We know we’re not going to split the rock today, or tomorrow. It’s going to take work each day. Establishing winning behaviors is something we’ve been talking about and is something we’ll continue to talk about as we go forward.”