It’s like watching your son grow up and leave the house – the mixed emotions of great pride but with a sense of loss.
That’s how longtime Troy High School boys basketball coach Gary Fralick feels about losing his longtime junior varsity coach and former player Aaron Smith.
Smith, who spent 15 seasons as the JV coach at Troy, recently was named the new varsity boys basketball head coach at Royal Oak High School.
“He’s been ready for years to be a varsity basketball coach,” Fralicksaid. “He relates very well to the young athletes and has always had a great rapport with his players.
“He’s a high-character person who is very positive and is always teaching the game of basketball the right way.”
Fralick called Smith and Royal Oak HS a “perfect fit.”
“I’m thrilled for him and I know the people of Royal Oak are going to be happy with him as well,” Fralick said. “Basketball is his passion. And the kids will learn quickly that he is always on their side.”
Smith decided now was the time to make the move to varsity, because he also saw Royal Oak as the “perfect fit” at this point in his life.
“I love coaching at any level,” he said. “I grew up in Troy and just loved it there and, with my job with the Pistons, it just worked out great.
“But a few years ago I started to get that itch to try coaching at the next level. I felt like it was time. When the Royal Oak job became available, it felt like the right place.”
So right time, right place equaled next level for Smith.
Smith was familiar with the program at Royal Oak and “had a lot of respect” for longtime coach Mike Massucci, who retired after last season.
“Being able to follow in his footsteps will be a great challenge but also a great opportunity for me,” Smith said.
“I thought Jim Cole (Royal Oak athletic director) and I were on the same page across the board during the interview process, and that really sealed the deal for me.”
‘A tough player’
Smith, 38, was born and raised in Troy. He graduated from Troy HS in 1994 after playing two years on the varsity basketball team.
Fralick remembers Smith well as a player.
“He was a tough player,” Fralick said. “He was a solid point guard, and that was a good team he played on his senior year. They were co-champions of the league that season.”
Fralick said Smith was a “smart and heady player” whom he could see even at that young age becoming a good coach if that’s what he wanted to do.
“He certainly had the ingredients to be a good coach,” Fralick said.
First coaching job
Before deciding that’s what he wanted to do with his life, Smith attended the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree sports management/communications.
He got a job at The Palace of Auburn Hills as the manager of Detroit Pistons Youth Programming. He manages youth programs around the area, including week-long summer camps.
During that time, he also started sitting on the bench next to Fralick to learn what he could from the successful coach. A few seasons later, Smith took over the JV coaching duties.
“We were up and down as far as record, but we were always competitive,” he said. “There is a great system and program in place at Troy. And I learned a lot from Coach Fralick.”
“Oh, wow, so much,” Smith said. “I first appreciated him giving me the opportunity to coach right out of college. More than anything, he taught me to do things the right way, especially off the court. He showed me the importance of being organized and prepared.”
Studied the game
Playing point guard, often compared to a coach on the floor, helped Smith see the game from a unique perspective. That experience, he said, helped in his transition from player to coach.
“I grew up watching the Pistons, and Isiah Thomas was the guy I tried to pattern myself after, especially his leadership skills on the court and his knowledge of the game,” Smith said.
“I might not have had the necessary skills on the basketball court, but I was always a student of the game, That made me a better player and later on a better coach.”
Smith said he is grateful for the support he has already received at Royal Oak, especially from Cole and Massucci, who has reached out to him since he was named his successor.
“He’s been amazing,” Smith said. “He’s given me anything I need from the standpoint of the ins and outs of the program and community. I can’t thank him enough.
“I never had the chance to meet him before getting this job, so it was great that he was willing to help me with the transition.”
The Ravens can expect to take flight with Smith on the bench.
“It depends on the personnel, but I’m an up-tempo type of coach,” Smith said. “My main goal is to create a culture where the kids play for one another and not themselves.
“We will be up-tempo and fast paced with a defensive mindset. I know we have some pretty good guards coming back, so we’ll get after it on defense and push it on offense.”
Royal Oak and Troy are in the OAA but different divisions and won’t face each other this coming season.
“My nephew (Isaiah Smith) was Troy’s starting point guard last year as a sophomore, so I’m kind of glad I don’t have to coach against him,” Smith said, laughing.