By Thomas Scavetta
Assistant Sports Editor
In his third year as the Head Coach of the men’s basketball team, Erik Smiles has led his team to a 13-5 record. The Pioneers currently sit tied atop the East Coast Conference with St. Thomas Aquinas College. Smiles is very familiar with the ECC as he spent his collegiate career playing basketball at the University of Bridgeport. Prior to becoming the Head Coach at LIU Post, Smiles was the guy in charge at Farmingdale State College from 2004-2013.
Q: When did you first develop an interest in coaching basketball?
A: I probably knew I wanted to be a coach back in high school. Back then I kind of realized that I wasn’t going to be a professional basketball player.
Q: What went through your mind when you were named the Head Coach here at LIU Post?
A: Oh, it was very exciting because this was a program I grew up watching. I grew up in Huntington down the street and my dad used to take me to the games back in the old gymnasium when Coach Galeazzi was coaching back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s when I was little kid. This place has always had a special place in my heart because of that and this was in some ways my hometown team, so I was really thrilled to become the head coach. It was a job I always wanted and in a lot of ways a dream come true.
Q: Now in your third season as Head Coach, is there anything different we should expect to see from the team this year?
A: We’re a lot bigger. We got three tall forwards in Barrington Alston, Michael Phillip, and Hunter Powell that we recruited. Plus, we got two 6-foot-6 guys back in Nick Kahn and Greg Dotson, so we’ll be a little bit bigger. In year three, you’ll see a lot of guys who have that experience factor, in terms of moving the ball, understanding the concepts better and understanding our stuff, so I think we have a chance to have a really good year.
Q: Can you describe the chemistry between you and your players both on and off the court?
A: We have guys like Jared Hall, Aary Bibens, and Dillon Burns, who have all been together for two to three years now, so it’s definitely a group that knows me, knows my staff, and knows what we’re doing on the court X and O wise. They’ve been living together in the dorms for two to three years now, so those seven to eight guys we have returning who know each other, know the system, know the school, have very strong bonds with one another. Also, the four new guys have kind of molded right in with everyone else.
Q: You’ve been working with some of these players for the past two years or so and have two returning starters from last year in Burns and Dotson. What have you seen in their growth and development?
A: Yeah, Burns and Dotson both started a lot games for us the past two years, but we have a lot of other guys who have started for us this year who have been in the program for a long time. Hall and Bibens are both seeing a lot of action, so yes we have those two starters back, but we have four or five other guys who have been in the mix and have seen a lot of significant minutes. Chris Orozco is another guy who started around eight to ten games last year and is back, so I think we definitely have a solid core back that we’re building off of.
Q: We’ve seen some coaches get into trouble recently due to unethical behavior. What are your thoughts on this issue?
A: Unfortunately it’s a part of business. I wish it wasn’t, but coaches for whatever reason take things a little too tight to the vest when they’re hungry and want to win and maybe do some things they shouldn’t do. I don’t think things like that serve the purpose of being a good role model, but unfortunately it happens.
Q: Have you ever experienced these issues as a student or as a coach?
A: I mean I’ve kind of been sheltered. The coaches I’ve played for never got involved in anything. I played Division II and coached Divisions II and III, so some of the stuff you see happening at big time schools like in the SEC, the Big East, or the Big 12 doesn’t really filter down to this level. Those kinds of things don’t really happen at the levels I’ve played and coached.
Q: Do you think how an athlete performs in the classroom translates over to how they perform on the court?
A: Oh yeah, I definitely think there’s a correlation with kids who have good grades and kids who are high IQ players. It’s not true 100% of the time, but I definitely think there’s a correlation between the kind of kid you recruit and how he is as a student and as a person in terms of how that translates in their performance on the court, so I believe there’s a strong connection there. Thankfully, we’ve had some pretty bright students and good guys who have gotten the job done in the classroom, so knock on wood.
Q: What would you consider to be the keys to excellence for these young men?
A: One of the biggest things for us is time management. We got practice, weights, conditioning, and film. Our guys have class, their families, social lives, and study hall, so I think learning how to be disciplined and dedicated to managing your time and sticking to your schedule, whether it’s going to class from 9-12, then going to the library and studying, eating dinner, having practice and then spending another hour studying after practice. I think time management is really one of the most important things our guys learn. We try to instill into them how to be dedicated and disciplined and how to keep your day organized because that’s how the real world is. A lot of different things go on at once; multi-tasking is what it is, so having that skill is critical for us to instill into our guys.
Q: What is one interesting thing people may not know about you?
A: I’m a huge history buff. I recently went to college to become a history teacher and I’m pretty big into geography. When my wife and I go on vacation, it’s more to go see monuments and history trails.