Lake Worth’s Murray Smith Gets 600 Wins
Murray Smith considers himself a teacher first and a basketball coach second, though one is an extension of the other.
The court is a second classroom for the Lake Worth boys coach. His players are his pupils.
“I take my teaching seriously,” said Smith, who has taught math for 32 years in Palm Beach County. “I don’t ever want to be known as a coach who doesn’t teach. I don’t want to be that guy. I want my players to look forward to coming to class. That’s all coaching is. It’s teaching. Just your classroom is your court.”
Smith, 54, has been coaching high school basketball for 29 years, 27 of them as a head coach. He started as an assistant at Palm Beach Lakes before taking over the head coaching position at Lake Worth Christian. Stints followed at Cardinal Newman, Summit Christian and Lake Worth, where he’s in his fourth season.
Smith’s teams have been tremendously successful, winning three state titles — two at Cardinal Newman and one at Summit Christian — and advancing to the Final Four seven times.
Last week, Smith reached a career milestone. The Trojans’ 78-44 victory over Forest Hill Jan. 20 was the 600th of his long coaching career.
Smith savored the moment, for a variety of reasons.
“It’s really exciting,” he said of the milestone win. “You think back on all the guys you coached, and think back on all the lives you made a difference in, and a lot of faces and names flash before you. It is much more than just wins. It’s relationships and memories.”
Smith, a native of the central Florida city of Eustis, has built many relationships over the years with the students he’s taught and the players he’s coached.
That’s one of the reasons he’s coached and taught for so long.
“I love basketball, but I think I love the kids more than I do basketball,” he said. “That’s why I don’t have a problem teaching math. I’ll get my fix for sports and basketball by coaching. But I like being in the classroom. I love working with the kids. It’s pretty cool when you run into somebody, and they’re 30 or 32 years old, and they say, ‘Coach Smith, your class is one I would never skip.’ ”
Smith has coached hundreds of players throughout his career, and many have gone on to play beyond high school. Some, like Smith, also teach.
Badi Oliver, who played for Smith at Cardinal Newman in the mid-’1990s, earned a basketball scholarship to Georgia. He now teaches at Roosevelt Middle School in West Palm Beach, and also is the head coach of the American Basketball Association’s South Florida Gold.
Oliver remembers Smith fondly and still stays in touch.
“He’s more than just a coach,” Oliver said. “He’s a friend. He takes you under his wing, and treats you as one of his own. I attended the University of Georgia and got a scholarship, and a large part of that was Coach Smith putting me in a position where I could be successful. He was always there for you. He definitely was one of the most influential people in my life.”
Smith’s current players also have words of praise for their coach, who invites them into his classroom several mornings a week for breakfast and conversation.
“He’s a caring person,” said senior guard Tyler Hicks, whose No. 8-ranked Trojans enter next week’s District 10-8A tournament as the No. 2 seed. “He fixes your attitude. You come in here with an attitude, then you have to think about what you say and how it affects someone else on the team. It brings us together. We’re more like a family now.”
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