Bernard Smalley was born and raised in Washington County. He played five years of varsity baseball and four years of varsity basketball at Washington County High School, and he was the head coach of the WC girls’ basketball team for seven years.
Last week it was announced he will now get the chance to take over the Commander basketball team, something he has aspired to do since he was a child.
“Being a local kid in Washington County, this is definitely a dream job, being able to coach where you played,” Smalley said. “I’m very excited.”
But those feelings of elation are offset by “mixed emotions,” according to Smalley, because of the time he spent as the girls’ head coach.
“[Resigning as girls’ head coach] was a hard decision; I’m not going to lie,” Smalley said. “You get close to the kids. It’s going to be hard to watch them play. I’ve been with them for eight years. I just hope I was able to teach them about the game of life, not just the game of basketball.”
After officially meeting the team as their new head coach earlier this week, Smalley will look to put his stamp on his new squad. One of the most important ways he hopes to do this is to get the players to “play with a little swagger, a little emotion.”
“Most of basketball is believing,” Smalley said. “You’ve gotta believe. As a coaching staff, as a school, as a player, you’ve gotta take pride in wearing that Washington County jersey. Hopefully, we can bring that back to the Commanders.”
Establishing that mindset could prove difficult.
The WC boys’ team hasn’t had a winning record since 2000-2001, a season where they were the last undefeated team left in the state. Smalley believes that one of the most important aspects in making this a successful endeavor is getting the community fully behind the team.
“Our goal is to get the community support back to where it was in the ‘80s, or where it was even [in 2001],” Smalley said. “Washington County used to always have a packed gym. We want to get the community behind us like that, but it’s gonna take some time.”
Whatever obstacles come with the job are fine with Smalley, though. The most important thing for him—at the moment, at least—is getting his chance to bring success back to WC boys’ basketball.
“This is my hometown, so I definitely wanted to give it a shot,” Smalley said. “We’ve got a lot of good shooters coming back, a lot of young kids. There’s a lot to be optimistic about for the future of Washington County basketball.”