Ada-Borup's perfect girls basketball season is Forum's top sports story
ADA, Minn. - There was no right answer for the Ada-Borup basketball player. She was stuck."You were going to foul, weren't you?" Ada-Borup girls basketball coach David Smart asked at practice.There was no way out. Say yes and admit she was beat t...
ADA, Minn. - There was no right answer for the Ada-Borup basketball player. She was stuck.
"You were going to foul, weren't you?" Ada-Borup girls basketball coach David Smart asked at practice.
There was no way out. Say yes and admit she was beat to the basket and was forced to foul. Say no and she's lying.
"Well, you were, weren't you?" Smart said.
The girl shook her head yes.
"In that situation, finish the foul," Smart said. "No touch fouls where they get the basket and get a free throw. No straight lines to the basket."
It summed up everything that is Ada-Borup girls basketball. Nothing comes easy.
"We go hard all the time," Ada-Borup senior Morgan Miller said. "To go hard in practice means you'll go hard in the game. From Day 1 of playing basketball, it's just instilled in us that if you want to do good, you have to work for it. Hard work is what we hang our hats on, and we're fine doing it because the success shows."
The Cougars made it look easy in the 2014-15 season, going 32-0 and winning the Minnesota Class 1A title to earn The Forum's Sports Story of the Year. Outside of a four-point win over Hawley and a two-point win in the state semifinals against Lyle-Austin Pacelli, no team got within 13 of Ada-Borup. There were 20 wins by more than 30 points and nine by 60 or more.
At Ada-Borup practice, there are no robots being programmed to play basketball. It is not a boot camp run by an evil drill sergeant. It's just basketball practice beneath a lot of banners at a school with an enrollment of 126.
"It's not all go, go, go or strict," Miller said. "We have fun with it too. That's why we love playing basketball. We have a reputation to hold up, and we love doing it."
They dribble wearing goggles that force them to keep their eyes up. They pass to one another on one leg to teach balance. They run laps for not helping on defense, not boxing out, not talking, missing layups and so on. Sometimes they don't run for mistakes.
"If I wasn't so sick of making you run, I'd make you run for that," Smart said.
Smart, 55, has the makeup of a drill sergeant. He squeezes a towel during games to calm himself down. He has to fold the towels a certain way and make sure the chairs are perfectly straight for games. If the towels are folded before he gets to them, he will unfold them and fold them again. Every game, he is sporting black pants and black shoes.
Miller laughed when asked about the perception of her coach.
"He's very intense, but he's so dedicated," Miller said. "He has so much knowledge of the game of basketball and loves to coach. That's what makes us love to play for him. All of his heart and desire keeps us into it. It makes us want to better ourselves. He believes in you and pushes you to be the best you can be."
"He's an awesome guy, and he pushes you to your best potential," Ada-Borup senior point guard Lexi Nelson said. "If you're not working hard, he'll get after you. That's what you want as a player."
The scoreboard is the topic of many conversations when Ada-Borup is involved. The Cougars are on the winning side of a lot of blowouts, leading some to ask if it's too harsh. The scoreboard isn't a topic of conversation for the Cougars.
"We really don't pay attention to the score. We're trying to take care of our business," Smart said. "At the same token, I'm never going to tell my kids to not play hard. I'll never do that or apologize for it."
It's easy to cast Smart as the villain because he dominates. He's in his 16th season with Ada-Borup, going 327-106 with three state titles and eight section titles. He's coached the only state appearances and state titles in program history at Ada-Borup.
The team has not lost back-to-back games since the 2006 state tournament, 282 games ago.
But before there was the man in black on the sidelines for Ada-Borup there was the young coach at Flasher High School in North Dakota coaching elementary basketball and football. It was supposed to be a short stay for he and his wife, but it turned into seven years.
"We were going broke staying out there, but it just didn't seem like a big deal. If you never really had the money, you don't know what you're missing," Smart said. "We just loved the people."
Smart said he really knew coaching was for him when he ran youth camps at Flasher.
"I remember some little kids being amazed at how much fun it was and how it was such a great thing that we were taking time out to help teach them," Smart said. "It hit me then that it was something I was going to be interested in for a long time."
If it weren't for Smart's father getting cancer, he may have never left Flasher. He knew his father didn't have long, so at 31 years old he was looking for a job in the area. He interviewed at Moorhead High School, but didn't get the job. He did, however, get the job for a social studies teacher in Ada, 16 miles away from his hometown of Hendrum, Minn., where local legend Trav Olson always kept a gym open for kids to learn the game of basketball.
Smart came to Ada-Borup in 1991 and his father died a year later. Smart was an assistant football coach and freshman track coach before becoming the girls head coach for the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons. He left to coach boys basketball, but returned in the 2002-03 season. He's been there ever since except in the 2009-10 season, when he traveled the country to watch his daughters Kelly and Nicole play basketball for Mayville State and the University of North Dakota, respectively. Since his return, Ada-Borup is 148-13 with four section championships and third-, second- and first-place finishes at the state tournament.
It was that year off when Smart realized he wasn't done coaching basketball just yet.
"It left an empty spot," Smart said. "Both my girls told me I had to go back. They said you couldn't walk away from it when you love it as much as you do."
As for his high school sweetheart and wife, Becky, she thinks he's never going to leave basketball. She may be right.
"If she isn't sick of me now, I don't know that she'll ever be," Smart said. "There are games that I think maybe I should have hung it up a year ago. Right now, I'm having a lot of fun doing it. My wife thinks I'm going to do it forever. Once it stops being fun. It helps me to be able to see the kids in a different light than just as students. It's so much work, but it's all worth it."