Building From Scratch

By Pete Smith
Guerin Catholic Boys Basketball Head Coach from 2004-2018

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2023/2024 issue of Impact Magazine, Guerin Catholic’s Alumni Magazine, in honor of the school’s 20th Anniversary.

In 2004, I was blessed to be Principal Keith Marsh and Athletic Director Eric Anderson’s choice as boys’ basketball coach.  Eric not only started the athletic program with a very modest budget (our athletes fundraised annually for a while, too) and a bleacher-less gymnasium, but Eric had no athletic administration experience. He played both in the NBA and overseas after his standout career at Indiana University.  I often helped him with questions and experiences with my years at other schools, but I was teaching in the Carmel Clay Schools and could only give advice.  Eric and his assistant Debbie Stanisz made it all happen, and I’m so proud of the department’s success.
We had 17 boys on the team and played a freshman schedule when we started the 2004-05 school year.  The next season many of those boys moved up to the jv team and seventeen more boys made up our freshman squad.  
All Golden Eagles athletic teams had first varsity teams in 2006-07, and our school became eligible for the IHSAA Tournament.  Basketball-wise, our
enrollment was classified 2A for our first five varsity seasons.  That first season the IHSAA assigned us to the Triton Central Sectional.  Despite having no
seniors yet, our team advanced to the championship game where we lost a nail biter to Park Tudor 50-48.
Obviously, all GC sports merited the use of our only gym, and now both the girls’ and boys’ programs had three teams (varsity, jv, and freshmen).  Gym scheduling really became taxing.  As a result, our team often practiced off campus. Sometimes we used my friend’s gym in Noblesville or on a court in a warehouse in the Westfield Industrial Park (both had only two goals).  Comically, there were a few occasions we had to use my pal’s horse barn that only had a half court!  At the drop of a hat we’d lose our gym practice time sometimes to school and outside events that requested the gym for an event or program right after the school day ended. But, we made it work!
An additional challenge in starting our basketball program “from scratch” was finding opponents that would play us.  Schools were not very receptive to playing a new parochial school. No one was beating the door down to play us.  Therefore, to build a competitive schedule, I took the boys all over the state to play in games and holiday tournaments.  We won the eight-team Franklin County Holiday Tournament in 2007, our program’s first time to cut down nets.  The foundations of our program were well established by that first senior class of 2008, and the program was gaining respect.  Defensively we committed to the statement “Contain, Protect, and Contest” and offensively we used the acronym FBI—Fast Break with Intelligence.  And as our program’s first four-year varsity letter winner Riley Rapp ’12 likes to remind me, I often said to the guys, “Deception is good in basketball; bad in life.”
We compiled a 10-5 record in 2A state tournament games with a regional finalist team and a sectional title.  Our school’s enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year had increased just enough though that we were moved up to the 3A tournament.  That season we won 24 games and captured our school’s first IHSAA state championship in any sport with a 64-48 victory at Conseco (now Gainbridge) Fieldhouse over Norwell High School. Three years later a new group of Golden Eagles won 22 games and another state title with a thrilling 62-56 win over Griffith High School.
After that 2015 season, GC was the first boys’ basketball team ever that was moved up to 4A competition by the IHSAA’s ‘Success Factor.’  We graduated eight seniors off that second state championship squad, including IHSAA Trester Award winner Matt Labus ’15 and our first and only Indiana All-Star in Matt Holba ’15.  The next two seasons our teams won 30 games and embraced the opportunity to play in the 4A tournament. However, we were a bit outmanned at that level come tourney time, and I feel bad those teams didn’t have the chance to play in the classification our school’s enrollment reflected.
My passion for coaching was tied into teaching students. I retired from education in 2016 and started a new profession. I learned quickly that it was time for me to leave the sidelines when I was not in the classroom all day. I thoroughly loved my years starting and building a basketball program at GC, and again, feel very blessed to be a part of the school’s history.