CHARLESTOWN — For Sean Smith, coming back to Charlestown felt like a homecoming of sorts, making for a smooth transition.
Smith, who coached West Washington and Providence in his most recent head coaching stops, spent his first 11 coaching seasons at Charlestown.
There were plenty of pleasant memories from his days there.
In his second season (2007-08) as the head coach, the then-younger Smith led the Pirates to a sectional title — the school’s only one since 2000.
“I had quite a few people who reached out to me about coming back,” Smith said.
Among those were members of the 2008 sectional championship team.
“That was a special team,” Smith said of the squad that went 20-4 and had a 14-game winning streak. “Those were special guys. I knew how good they were, but I didn’t know how tough coaching was. I’ve learned some stuff along the way.”
After five years away, Smith is back to rebuild the program that went 12-34 over the last two seasons.
Smith admitted a winning culture doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s a cultural thing and it will take some time to get there,” he said. “It’s something we’ll have to fight for a little bit every day. We’ll have to battle through.”
Smith said he builds a team through positive exchange with the players.
“They need encouragement and uplifting,” he said. “I really think they’re a good group of kids. It will be a process.”
As he has done at previous stops, Smith wants to be a positive influence on young lives.
“It’s definitely about more than basketball,” he said. “But we want to win. We want these players, especially the seniors, to taste some winning on the court.”
The challenge got even tougher after Smith found out he won’t have the services of power forward Bo Braunecker, a key player on last season’s squad. Braunecker (6.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg), who played linebacker for the school’s football team, won’t play basketball because he’s recovering from some nagging injuries from the football season.
Although the Pirates did graduate their top two scorers, they do return several contributors from a team that went 9-14 last season. Included among those are a trio of starters — junior guard Ashton Davis (5.3 ppg) and senior forwards Caleb Brown (6.4 ppg) and Devron West (6.6 ppg).
Clayton Rothbauer, a junior guard who also played quite a bit, is another returner.
“I’m not sure we have a true go-to player,” Smith said. “But, we have some players who can do some things. We’ll have to work together on both ends of the floor. It will be a committee type of a thing.”
“We want to prove people wrong and we’re an above-average team,” Rothbauer added.
After opening their season at New Washington on Nov. 26, the Pirates will have a chance to prove something against rival and reigning Class 3A state champion Silver Creek on Dec. 4 in Sellersburg. For a rebuilding program, an early date with the Dragons is a daunting task.
In terms of the Mid-Southern Conference race and the sectional tournament, Smith believes both roads go through Silver Creek.
“They’ve had a nice run of very nice talent,” Smith said of the Dragons. “They’re athletic and they can play. Everything goes through them and everybody knows that.”