Iconic career reflected in selection of Peabody’s Charles Smith to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

By: William Weathers // Contributing Writer

As the oldest of seven children Charles Smith Jr. has long been a shining star for his six siblings.

As the first of seven college graduates, Smith played baseball at Paul Quinn college and accepted an invitation to spring training with the Cincinnati Reds. He was among a star-studded group of future Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, and multi-time All-Star Pete Rose.

“During my time in camp I was getting autographs,” Smith joked. “That was a good experience for me.”

Smith, 74, returned to his native Louisiana to embark on a high school basketball coaching career in 1971 that’s become simply legendary over the 39 seasons at Peabody High School in Alexandria – a fact that became official with his selection to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024.

“A lot of things started to race through my mind like my dad (Charles Sr.), a World War II veteran who served at the Battle of the Bulge with Gen. Patton,” Smith said. “I reflected back on him and my mom (Zelphia). She taught school in the 40’s in a one-run church house.

“Me and my siblings came up from humble beginnings,” Smith said of rural Taylor Hill (20 miles northwest of Alexandria) in Rapides Parish. “As the oldest of seven children, this was the icing on the cake. I’ve always tried to set the standard for my younger brothers and sisters. For me to gain entry into the Naismith Hall of Fame, the whole family was just elated.”

Smith, who remains an advanced math/trigonometry teacher and school bus driver at Peabody, was officially informed April 1 that he was part of this year’s class of 13 inductees and one of two from Louisiana, joining former Capitol High, LSU and Minnesota Lynz star Seimone Augustus of Baton Rouge.

They will be joined by Vince Carter, Walter Davis, Chauncey Billups, Bo Ryan, Jerry West (as an NBA executive), Doug Collins, Herb Simon, Harles Redin, Dick Barnett, Michele Timms and Michael Cooper.

Moreover, Smith and Augustus will become the ninth and 10th natives of Louisiana to enter the hall along with Leon Barmore, Joe Dumars, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Kim Mulkey, Robert Parish and Willis Reed.

Finalists must receive 18 votes from a 24-member Honors Committee and formal induction for this year’s 13-member class will take place Aug. 16-17 at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

“When I heard that I was a finalist I was really surprised,” said Smith, the nation’s fifth winningest coach with a record of 1,208-214 and nine state championships. “When you talk about the Naismith, you’re talking about NBA guys, high level college guys and coaches. It was an honor just to be a finalist. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be selected.”

Smith had to keep the life-changing news of his impending induction under wraps for a week until he was officially introduced, along with the rest of the class, at halftime of last Saturday’s Final Four semifinal between Purdue and North Carolina State in Phoenix.

After receiving red-carpet treatment during the event, Smith was measured for his Hall of Fame ring and jacket.

Trying to decide who will present him in August remains an on-going process.

“I’ve been thinking it over,” Smith said. “It has to be a Hall of Famer, so I’ve coached against Joe Dumars (Natchitoches Central), coached against Karl Malone (Summerfield) and got to see Robert Parish (Woodlawn-Shreveport) play. Those are three outstanding choices.”

By the time Smith’s return flight landed in New Orleans, news of his Hall of Fame selection had spread and was an extreme source of pride.

Smith will become just the sixth high school coach to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame and his nine state championships would place him behind only Bob Hurley (26) and Morgan Wootten (22).

“My phone started blowing up as soon as I landed, mostly from former players,” Smith said. “They were so elated. They know the time, the hard work we put in and the struggles. I had a night of champions in February where we brought back all nine teams (including his year as an assistant). We had a great time and celebration. They swear I knew when I brought them all back, but I told them no, I didn’t.”

Smith put the finishing touches on Hall of Fame resume’ in March when Peabody concluded a 28-5 season with the Division II state select championship.

The second-seeded Warhorses made their 27th appearance in the state tournament and avenged a semifinal loss to Carver of New Orleans in 2023 with a 52-48 semifinal victory, advancing to the state title game and defeating top-seeded face Madison Prep, 43-40.

“This was a surprising year but a good year,” said Smith, whose son Kedric Smith is on his coaching staff. “We lost in the semifinals last year to Carver, the state champions, so we had the chance to return a lot of players and those guys worked hard and set a goal.

“We made it back to the semifinals against Carver, managed to win that game, and went into the finals against Madison Prep, and the kids just worked hard,” said Smith, who has had more than 70 players earn scholarships with Paul Thompson and Markel Brown playing in the NBA. “These were roll-your-sleeves-up, get-to-work young men and we were able to win a state championship.”

Smith said he will continue to coach, teach and drive a school bus as long his health permits and his joy for teaching and molding young men burns brightly.

Smith’s won 85% of his games, was named ESPN’s national Coach of the Year after a 41-0 record in 2010 and coached in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game in 2020.

Moreover, Smith will take his rightful place in the fourth Hall of Fame of his career after previous inductions into: Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (2019), Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame (’19) and National High School Coaches Athletics Hall of Fame (’21). He’s eligible for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame upon his retirement.

“When I got the call that I had been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, that really blew my mind,” Smith said. “It’s just an amazing feat for a high school coach to get that high of an honor.”