Crawford County head coach Levi Carmichael remembers March 17, 2001 like it was yesterday. A star during his playing days at Eastern Greene, Carmichael and the top-ranked Thunderbirds were vying for their first semi-state championship against Batesville.
Success hardly eluded Carmichael on the court. The 6-foot guard, who sits atop the school’s all-time scoring list, poured in 44 points and nailed the eventual game-winner to clinch Eastern Greene its first sectional title as a senior that year, and three days later he scored 29 to lift the program to its first regional crown – ironically over host Crawford County.
Despite said success, Carmichael’s high school career came to an end on March 17, 2001, as the Thunderbirds were denied a semi-state title. Following the loss, though, Carmichael said he promised himself he’d advance even further in the state tournament as a head coach. Sixteen years later, his Crawford County team is headed to the Class 2A state championship game.
“I vowed that I didn’t want to go to the state finals unless I could do it as a coach,” Carmichael recalled Wednesday morning. “I knew when I was young that’s what I wanted to do. I love the game. I love the camaraderie. I love being around kids and hopefully having a positive influence on them. So this is kind of neat – not being able to get there as a player but being able to do it as a coach. I think that’s something pretty special.”
Carmichael is a protege of several area standouts in hall of famer Joe Hinton, state champion Jim Shannon and Eastern Greene’s Andy Igel, among others. The prolific prep scorer went on to play collegiately at Austin Peay, which included an appearance in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, before beginning his coaching career as an assistant at Olney Central Junior College in 2005.
From there he spent one season at South Putnam High School as an assistant before learning under Hinton at Paoli in 2007 and 2008. Carmichael then teamed up with Shannon at New Albany in 2009, the middle year of his wife Amanda’s stint with the Bulldogs’ girls team.
“He was a winner as a high school and college player, and Levi continued his success as an assistant coach and as a head coach,” Shannon said. “He is very knowledgeable, a great teacher of the game, a hard worker and extremely dedicated. … We were blessed to have him and his wife Amanda with us at New Albany, and we wish him all the best in seeking a state championship.”
Carmichael’s other stops along the Southern Indiana coaching carousel included his first head coaching gig at South Central (2010), an assistant and head coaching position with his alma mater Eastern Greene (2011-13) and an assistant role at Bloomington North (2013-2015). The 34-year-old’s career path led to Crawford County prior to the 2015-16 season. He owns a 39-14 record in two years with the Wolfpack and a 55-41 clip in four seasons overall.
Carmichael said his many influences – especially Hinton, Shannon and Igel, who’ve combined for more than 1,300 career wins – have paved the way for his success at the helm.
“They understand what it takes to get there, and they understand what’s important and what’s not important,” Carmichael said. “Just being able to learn from them and see how they approach their day-to-day lives as coaches and with their families, I think that’s what I’ve drawn from the most. Going into this week I’ve been able to call coach Igel, call coach Shannon and pick their brains about things. Being a part of that basketball family has meant a lot to me.”
After guiding Crawford County to its first sectional title in 15 years, the program’s first regional crown since 1995 and its only semi-state championship, Carmichael and the Wolfpack (21-6) are set to meet Frankton (21-6) in Saturday’s Class 2A state final at 12:45 p.m. in Indianapolis.
Frankton averages 69.8 points per game and outscores its opponents by 18.1 on average, good for eighth in the state. Crawford County enters as the state’s 18th-best defense at 44.1 points per outing. The Eagles boast three players accounting for more than 65 percent of their scoring, spearheaded by Maurice Knight at 21.5 points per game. Crawford County lists six players averaging at least 5.8 points per game, which makes up 90 percent of its offense.
“It’s going to be a battle of two different styles,” Carmichael said. “It’s going to be a tremendous challenge because they are going to want to push the pace a little bit. They are going to want to speed us up. We have to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. We can get easy layups and be able to get wide open shots from our shooters. But we also have to know when we have the opportunity, if the momentum of the game requires, to bring the ball out and attack smartly.”
Carmichael’s bunch practiced under the bright lights at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s state championship matchup – the biggest stage in school history. A win would solidify Crawford County’s first state title in any sport. But according to Carmichael, the Wolfpack’s historic postseason run should translate into anything but nerves.
“I don’t think we ever really think about what the end result is. … This is just a process, and we’re going to try to take it day by day,” Carmichael said. “We just want to get better. Luckily, this team has continued to get better as the season has gone on.
“There’s no need to be nervous about yourself and what you need to do because what we’ve done has been working. What we’ve done as a team is working. We talk a lot about drawing confidence from that and not nervousness. … We just have to enjoy it.”