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  • Val T.

Filled with Rochester pride, Smith voted into Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

Pete Smith’s basketball coaching career might have begun when he passed on attending his best friend Arik Lee’s wedding.

Instead, Smith earned an opportunity that led to him getting an assistant coach’s job at Warsaw, which led to head coaching jobs at Manchester, Noblesville, Penn, Carmel and Guerin Catholic. 

He won eight sectionals, three regionals and Class 3A state titles in 2012 and 2015 at Guerin Catholic.

And last week, five years after coaching his final game, the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Smith, a 1979 Rochester grad, will be part of its 2024 induction class.

The induction banquet is at the Primo Banquet Hall in Indianapolis on March 20.

Skipping Lee’s wedding might be one of the great ironies about Smith: Though he no longer has living relatives in town, he remains strongly proud of his roots.

He played for Galen Smith and Phil McCarter. He was part of the 1978 sectional championship team that included Dave McCarter, Greg Carr, Joe Paulik, Arik Lee and his older brother Nik and Jeff McLochlin, among others.

As a senior, he was a team captain and won the team’s mental attitude award.

He said that Phil McCarter and Joan Hungerford, his high school business teachers, inspired him to want to become an accounting teacher. Athletic director Bill Schroer was a mentor.

He remains close friends with Lee and others in the area.

He counted the McCarter family, Lee, Sheila McMillen Keller and Laura Newcomb Titus, the latter two whom he will join in the Hall, among the first people to contact him when the news was released.

To this day, his handle on the social media site X (formerly known as Twitter) is @FightingZebra1.

Quite simply, Smith loved growing up in Rochester in the 1970s.

“The ‘70s in Rochester were just unbelievable,” Smith said.

He later chuckled in remembrance.

“I’ll be the first one to tell you I wasn’t always a saint growing up,” Smith said. “I mean, there are some goofy things a bunch of us did, but it’s pretty harmless to what kids do nowadays. But we just had such a neat, neat high school and neat town back then. It was just really, really cool.”

And during his high school days, he crossed paths with Al Rhodes. In addition to being a reserve on the basketball team, Smith also played tennis, and Rhodes coached the tennis team at Warsaw.

But Rhodes was also an aspiring JV basketball coach at Warsaw.

Meanwhile, Smith, despite never being a star high school player, wound up playing in college at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka under coach Homer Drew.

His playing time in college being rare, one day Drew approached Smith and asked him if he would like to consider a career in coaching. Smith said that Drew told him that he would be more helpful on the bench as an assistant coach than as a player on the end of the bench.

Smith said what Drew told him was “very honest,” but he appreciated it and found encouragement in Drew’s message. He started attending coaching clinics, where he would run into Rhodes and say hello, reminding him of his tennis and basketball backgrounds at Rochester.

By the 1982-83 high school basketball season, Smith was a senior in college and coaching the JV boys basketball and varsity track teams at South Bend Adams. He was also student-teaching at South Bend Adams.

When the basketball schedule came out, Smith noticed a conflict right away: On the night Arik Lee was to get married to his wife Deb, South Bend Adams had a game against Warsaw. The aspiring coach wanted to approach Rhodes, who got the Warsaw basketball head coaching job in 1980, and see if he remembered him from tennis and state his intentions that he wanted to pursue a coaching career.

But if he were to get a face-to-face chat with Rhodes, he would have to miss Lee’s wedding.

Smith made the tough decision. He coached in the game instead.

“During the evening … I said, ‘Coach, hey, I’m graduating from Bethel this year, and if anything comes open, I would love to coach at Warsaw with you,” Smith said.

Rhodes eventually hired Smith, and Smith was also taught business and coached the track team. And one year after graduating from Bethel, the 23-year-old Smith assisted Rhodes on Warsaw’s 1984 state title team. That team included Jeff Grose, who would go on to win Mr. Basketball in 1985.

“I’ve apologized to Arik for missing his wedding a lot of times, but I think back, if I wouldn’t have coached that night at Warsaw, what would Al have thought of me?” Smith mused. “‘Our JV coach wasn’t here tonight. It’s Pete Smith. He said to say hi, but he had a wedding to be in because … Al is 100 percent basketball. I always felt terrible about missing Big A and Deb’s wedding, but if I would have missed that game that night, I’m not sure Al Rhodes would have called me in the spring and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have an opening here at Warsaw. Would you like to come and interview?’”

Smith started coaching at the Five-Star Basketball Camps in Pennsylvania at which Rhodes worked, and those camps helped Smith build contacts within the coaching community.

Smith called Rhodes a “tremendous mentor.”

His roommates and associates from those camps are something of a who’s who of coaching. Smith worked at camps with college coaches like Rick Pitino, and when the NCAA outlawed college coaches working at camps like Five-Star, Smith got promoted. He worked camps attended by Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers like Grant Hill and Alonzo Mourning.

“Some of my roommates at Five-Star … I’ve had (Kentucky coach) John Calipari as my roommate one week; Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald was my roommate; Troy Lewis, the great Purdue player, was my roommate one week; Steve Lappas, who was (the coach) at Villanova; it’s just amazing. I was just lucky to make my own breaks, and it all came from Al’s influence and him getting me into Five-Star Camp and getting me to be his assistant coach at Warsaw and just becoming really good friends.”

By 1987, Galen Smith retired after a second stint as Rochester coach, and Pete Smith, then 26 and with four years’ experience as an assistant under Rhodes, interviewed for the head coaching job at his alma mater.

He lost out to Bill Titus.

Later that summer, he applied for the job at conference rival Manchester.

He won a sectional at Manchester in 1988, but his most famous team was his 1991 team that had an undefeated regular season before falling in the sectional to the Bill Patrick-coached Whitko team that would eventually make the Final Four. He won a sectional at Noblesville in 1994 and then another at Penn in 1996.

Smith was the Penn coach from 1994-98. He said he left Noblesville for Penn because Penn would let him teach accounting. He said he loved Penn. He said that it was a big school with 3,200 students, yet it seemed like a small school.

(Ironically, during the same week in which Smith found he was going into the Hall of Fame, he drove to Penn for a ceremony in which the basketball court there was named in honor of Rhodes, who retired last season after a 15-year coaching career at Penn and a 42-year coaching career overall. This came 29 years after Rhodes talked Smith into leaving Noblesville to take the Penn job, which is Rhodes’ alma mater.)

Smith said he thought he would never leave Penn. But when he met his wife Vicky during his time at Noblesville, he had to make some sacrifices, and one of them involved leaving Penn.

“My wife’s first husband had died, so she had three kids, and her youngest was deaf and autistic,” Smith said. “So she said, ‘You’re going to have to move back to the area because we can’t uproot the kids. We can’t.’ So I needed a job because she was not going to move up to Granger.”

So Smith applied for the Carmel job. Future IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox was the athletic director at Carmel who hired him.

Smith coached Carmel from 1998-2002, replacing Hall of Fame coach Bob Heady. It did not go well. He had four losing seasons. He had good talent in the pipeline, including future McDonald’s All-American and NBA player Josh McRoberts, but he also said he was feeling “burned out.” He was also mourning the death of his father in 2001. He ultimately resigned.

For two years, Smith continued to teach accounting at Carmel before starting to get an itch to coach again.

But one job he interviewed for, which Smith declined to name, was a long drive from where he lived in Carmel. Vicky stood firm. Again, for the sake of her three children, she was unwilling to move the family for Pete to pursue a coaching job.

She advised him to talk to Eric Anderson.

Anderson might best be known to casual fans as a forward at Indiana University from 1988-92, but he was also the first ever athletic director at Guerin Catholic, a new private high school in Noblesville.

Smith told Anderson that he wanted to get back into coaching. The school had not even been built yet.

“I drove down to this office that the principal and the AD were using just to start working on staffing,” Smith said. “And I said, ‘Eric, if you’re looking for a basketball coach, I’d be glad to start your basketball program.’

“He goes, ‘Cool, dude. You’re hired.”

Smith took the Guerin Catholic job while still teaching at Carmel. It was about a 10-minute drive after school to get to practice. He later became the assistant athletic director at Guerin Catholic in addition to being the basketball coach.

The school was established in 2004, and after Smith guided the players through partial freshman and JV schedules, the school played its first varsity basketball game on Nov. 21, 2006.

Despite his coaching credentials, he insisted on coaching the freshman team in the 2004-05 season.

“This is like a coach’s dream,” Smith said. “I get to coach these kids all four years if they make it through.”

Meanwhile, he returned to assist Rhodes in coaching the West team at the 2005 McDonald’s All-American Game, which was played at the Joyce Center at Notre Dame and broadcast on ESPN.

Guerin Catholic went 9-13 that first season, but Smith followed that with 11 straight winning seasons. The school won its first sectional in its fourth season of basketball in 2010, and the first state title followed in 2012. They made it back to semistate in 2014 and won another state title in 2015, bouncing back after eight regular season losses.

Smith left teaching in 2016 and coaching in 2018. He is now the Business Development Specialist for Performance Services, an engineering company based in Indianapolis that designs and builds schools, municipalities and correctional facilities, and also serves on the Board of Directors of Community First Bank of Indiana based out of Kokomo.

He also broadcasts basketball games with ISC Sports Network and has worked as an announcer at IHSAA events. He and Vicky currently live in Westfield.

He has no living relatives here, but it’s not uncommon for him to travel to Rochester to have breakfast at Jarrety’s Place with Arik Lee or other old friends.

Galen Smith, Dave McCarter and McLochlin are among those from Rochester who passed away. Anderson, who gave him the job at Guerin Catholic, died in 2018.

Pete Smith called Galen Smith “a tremendous, positive role model.”

“When you get an honor like this and you think about all the things that molded you as a person, as a friend and as a teacher, you really think about all the people that helped you develop and mold the person that you turned out to be,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt that both ‘Mac’ (McCarter) and ‘Wolf’ (McLochlin) were such close friends along with so many in Rochester. We were a tight-knit group.”

He also helped start a scholarship named in honor of Galen Smith. Neil Bemenderfer, a 1974 Rochester grad, and Dave McGowen, a 1975 grad, were quick to joining the scholarship committee.

“Rochester was a tight-knit high school in the ‘70s,” Smith said. “It just was. … We were all Zebras. It was a special place to be growing up. It really helped mold me.”

But McMillen Keller, herself a Carmel resident who received her own special honor – her uniform number 20 was retired at Rochester on Dec. 2 – was among those who sent a congratulatory text.

“Jerry Oliver is the greatest coach that was ever in Rochester, and now I’m thinking I’m going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Bill Schroer and Jerry Oliver and Laura and Shelly Newell and Sheila, and it’s really surreal because of the things that they did,” Smith said.

“I’m just so humbled and grateful for this opportunity.”


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