Christian School in Hinesville, Georgia. FPCS won the 2016 Georgia independent Schools Association (GISA) state championship on March 7. It was the 4th state title for FPCS and the first for Smith, who is in his third year as the Highlanders head coach. In addition to being the FPCS basketball coach, the Hinesville native is also the school’s athletic director and cross country coach. Smith, who was tabbed the 2015-16 GISA Region 2-AA of the Year, attended Albany State while his parents, Gaynelle Howell Smith and the late Jerome Smith, Sr. attended Savannah State. In his three years at FPCS, Smith has an overall record of 66-12.
Q-Did having your father being a former high school basketball coach influence your decision to get into coaching? A-“Most definitely. My father being a coach was a big influence. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. Growing up I was able to watch and see the things that he did for the community and especially the kids in the community as a coach and a mentor. He looked out for a lot of kids in our community and the majority of them never forgot. They remind me all the time.”
Q- Before the season started, did you think that the team had enough returning experience on the roster to make a run at a state title? A-“I thought we were about a year away. The last two years we graduated 11 seniors so I knew we would be very young but very talented. I thought we needed at least a year to mature. I started two freshmen and a sophomore with really not much varsity experience. They grew up in a hurry. All three finished the season averaging double figures.”
Q- This is your third season at FPCS. The first two years, you made deep runs into the state playoffs but fell short of winning a state title. What was the difference about his current team than the teams from 2014-15 and 2013-14? A-“Yes. My first year, we lost in the state championship game and last year we lost in the final four. My first year’s team, I thought, we were talented enough to win the championship. We just came up three points short. Last year’s team might have peaked a little too soon or may have been a little over confident. This year’s team was totally different. They were young but extremely hungry. They soaked in whatever you told them an executed so well, especially the last nine games of the season. We played exceptionally well.”
Q- Two of the three high schools in Hinesville won state basketball championships this year. What does that say about the caliber of athletes in Liberty County? A-“Liberty County has always had great athletes and basketball players. You are really starting to see all the hard work that these kids are putting in. It’s a hotbed here as far as basketball goes. College coaches need to stop sleeping on Liberty County because it is several Division I prospects right here.”
Q-You took over the FPCS program after the death of your high school classmate, Ernie Walthour. How special was this title to the team, knowing that he had something to do with do with many of the players? A-”Yes, I took over the program right after Ernie’s death an our roster was full of junior and senior players that he had. We really wanted to win the title for him with those kids especially. This year’s team was made up of my kids with the exception of 1. My assistant coach David (Linderman) and I still wanted to win a championship for Ernie because that’s what we set out to do 3 years ago, so it was still special because we finally achieved that goal.”
Cokley Makes Conference USA Team
Savannah native Chris Cokley has been named to the Conference USA all conference team for his play during the 2015- 16 basketball season. Cokley, who plays at Alabama Birmingham, just finished sophomore season. The 6-foot-eight forward was named to the second team.
Cokley ranked second on the team in scoring (13.2 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.5 rpg) . The 2015 Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year, Cokley ended the regular season with a team-high four double doubles and registered five 20-point games.
The Savannah High School alumnus ranks fifth in C-USA with a .574 field goal percentage and turned in 16 games in which he shot 60 percent or better from the field, including three games over 80 percent. His performance helped UAB rank 20th in the NCAA in team field goal percentage.
“Chris has proved to be a very gifted offensive player,” said UAB head coach Jerod Haase. “While we have relied on him to be a great low post scorer, his rebounding, unselfishness and passing ability have been an integral part to our success this season. He has to be one of the most improved players in the country, yet we believe he still possesses a tremendous upside as a player.”