Reggie Smith is creating a basketball community from scratch in Madera, while teaching life lessons on and off the court.
Smith, 40, was born in Fresno and is currently living in Madera. He has two daughters. Kierra, 15, is a sophomore playing for the Madera South Stallions girls basketball team and Ariyah, 10, who plays at Alpha Elementary. Both girls have been coached by their father since birth.
Since 2012, Smith has won the city championship with the Alpha Elementary Gators and began coaching his newly founded AAU team, the CaliLegends. Prior to the 2012 championship run, Smith got his coaching start after helping with coach a boy’s AAU team in the Fresno/Madera area. He has continued to coach at the youth level for more than 15 years. Although, there are differences between both teams, the common denominator is a familiar one – winning.
“The difference between coaching girls is that surprisingly, the boys wear more emotions on their sleeves,” Smith said. “Many people think girls are more emotional, but the boys are more so on the court. I tell the boys that the only way you’ll really prevail is by controlling those emotions.”
The CaliLegends consist of girl’s high school basketball players from Fresno and Madera. Smith founded the team and began coaching for several reasons, the main being an opportunity to coach his two daughters during the crucial ages for basketball development. His plan was to branch out on his own, and later incorporate and expand the CaliLegends. With support from his spouse, Blanca, the family’s togetherness is surrounded by the game.
“He’s very, very passionate, I can totally see him leading his daughters to that next level,” Blanca said. “I get a little emotional when I watch his games. He’s both counselor, dad, and coach. He’s everything.”
Kierra is a sophomore at Madera South playing with her CaliLegends sophomore teammates Sa’tijia Warren, Le’Ajanne Kinley, Aleecia Rosel, Emily Montoya, and freshman Alex Ellard.
Reggie handpicked the 11 players on the roster and develops them with a unique style. Kierra was a part of the back-to-back city champions team at Alpha coached by Smith. He has seen what the town of Madera has to offer and knows that building an AAU program would rally support from families within the community. The CaliLegends have the potential to represent the community and be the heartbeat of girls basketball in Madera.
“My CaliLegends team plays higher-caliber teams with more basketball knowledge,” Smith said. “The competition is tougher because the teams we play have been playing together a lot longer.”
It has been nearly 13 years since the last back-to-back championships in girls basketball before Kierra’s team dominated. Now Smith was back in the same tournament.
The Alpha Gators are an elementary school team, so the players are younger in age. The girls may not be fully aware of Smith’s winning tradition, but every year the team is coached into the finals. This year’s city championship featured a different Alpha team, Smith said this Alpha Gators team is the best he’s ever had. “When you get to school basketball within these communities, it’s not a basketball setting, yet.” Smith explained.
But Smith says when the players get older and understand the game more, they become more coachable and he can develop them to run a successful system as he is doing with the CaliLegends. Alpha is a few years ahead of the learning curve compared to where other girls are at their age, which is a testament to Smith’s capabilities developing players quickly.
For example, Smith only had one practice before their city championship tournament where the Gators focused solely on 2-3 zone. The 2-3 zone is a defensive scheme used in basketball that is largely discouraged at the youth level unless it’s executed correctly. The Gators, however, were able to not only understand the scheme, but execute it and move on to an evolved more intense version of the zone defense.
“Practicing the day before is kind of unfair to the girls, but we have the mentality that it’s already in the bag,” Smith described practicing the day before. “This is the best Alpha team I’ve been able to coach, this season and last season they don’t need much practice. They don’t have to deal with losing, I don’t know how they would deal with it. I don’t think we’re going to have see that day anytime soon.”
That day came unexpectedly came last Thursday at Madera South High School in the championship game on Nov. 4. The stunning loss was Alpha’s first in more than two years.
Alpha cruised to the final round of the tournament after winning its first two games by defeating John Adams and Lincoln elementary schools. The final game was against Pershing Elementary.
Smith was shocked at the physical back-and-forth game that featured an intense Pershing triple-team defense. After feeling the heartbreak, the Gators learned a tough lesson that all athletes learn, that losing is a part of sports and life goes on.
To explain how shocked the Gators were following the loss to Pershing, their regular season wins came by final scores of 18-0 at Sierra Vista, 31-3 against Parkwood, and a 48-8 blowout win over Cesar Chavez Elementary.
Ariyah may be the most competitive of those in the Smith family and took her first loss hard, but her father says her best days are ahead of her.
“She was upset. She loves to play; she loves to win,” Smith said. “She’s already playing with her sister and, against high school girls, she’ll be fine.”
For Smith, being a father and a basketball coach are almost one and the same, Smith plays the role of a coach on the court, but to Ariyah, he’s still Dad.
“I love to train my kids now they’re getting older,” Smith said. “I tell my girls always play with your heart and leave it all out on that court.”
Much like in everyday life, he tells his players to be aware of their strengths and use them to their advantage. As far their weaknesses, recognize and work harder on building yourself up.
For a basketball coach, it’s easy to look at the professionals at the highest level and point out their weaknesses. As for Smith, he says he knows what his strengths are and puts his ego aside. Smith has watched certain high school coaches in the Fresno and Madera area and is trying to structure his own program and blend their styles together to create his own success.
“I know one of my weaknesses can be sometimes waiting too long to make that one small adjustment that I may have overlooked or may have been overthinking,” Smith pointed out. “But, I put all that I have into this. I give it everything I have for them. I’m receptive to all styles of coaching and I’m open-minded. I have to prepare a younger team with not that much fundamental development.”
The best part of Smith’s coaching career comes off the court and really proves that he’s building a program for all the right reasons.
“The looks on my daughter’s face, and the smiles on my team’s face is one memory I’ll never forget.”
Smith’s next coaching venture will be a free clinic for boys and girls of all ages. Being the first of many, Smith has invited several guest coaches to help with the fun on Nov. 26 at the Millview Center in Madera.