Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Next Stage of the Game

MARSHALL - On a recent Thursday afternoon, Nick Smith grabbed rebounds, while Tramel Barnes fed the ball to a shooter on the 3-point line. Even though both Smith and Barnes were standout players for the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs, they weren't playing in a game, they were helping freshman Ryan Bruggeman with his long distance shooting before practice
Barnes is in his first year as a full-time assistant coach, while Smith is in his first year as a graduate assistant. Barnes played for SMSU between 2011-13 and Smith suited up between 2010-14.

Both of them knew that they wanted to coach even before their playing careers were finished.
Barnes said coaching interested him in high school. He enjoys working with kids and credits the coaches in his life for encouraging him to pursue the field as a career

"In high school it was something that I really liked. I've been fortunate enough to have some really good coaches that have been in my life and mentored me," he said.
Smith thought about coaching midway through his college career. He began to take on my leadership responsibilities as a player. He worked on becoming more vocal, something that he admitted was not his strong suit.

Smith has most enjoyed working with the players who aren't actually playing in the games this year.
"I just love working with the guys, especially with the redshirts. Just seeing them make gains in the weightroom and the court and as people too. It's been a lot of fun so far," he said.

Both Smith and Barnes started their coaching careers at SMSU because they were familiar with coach Brad Bigler's style and they relished the ability to continue learning from him.
"It's been a pretty easy transition to some degree with knowing the system and knowing the guys, working with coach Bigler. I think that's helped a lot. I've learned a lot and still have a lot to learn when it comes to that," said Barnes.

Even though they both knew the X's and O's, they had to learn the "behind the scenes" work. In addition to helping players, they also get equipment ready, organize camps, and speak with recruits. Barnes said that was his "biggest adjustment."

SMSU is used to players transitioning from the court to the sideline. Bigler has had at least one former player on his staff in all but one of his six seasons as head coach at SMSU. Bigler made that same transition as well.

Bigler noted that while it wasn't easy, both Barnes and Smith have adjusted well to their new roles.
"It's a tough transition to have that separation with the guys, but also have that voice that they respond to as well. Both of them take a lot of pride in the program. And that's where we're thankful to have them. Both of them will be outstanding coaches," said Bigler.

Smith said familiarity with the players has both positives and negatives.
"You've been around the guys for so long, three maybe even four years. That was tough, you can't necessarily hang out with them in the same way. You're still good friends with them and maybe it helped me a little bit more because I can talk with them more. They know where I'm coming from, so that may help me in that respect a little bit," he said.

Current players have also had to acclimate to their former teammate's new roles.
"I lived with Nick for two years. Tramel was a friend and a teammate for a year. It's hard to make that adjustment from a friend to a coaching role. But you got to respect those guys, they are coaches, they are authority figures. With a lot of new guys, it's important for us older guys that know them to show them the respect that they deserve," said Cole Martin.

However, Martin said that it's been a positive experience overall. "It's been great. At the start it was kind of a friend thing, but as the season's progressed, they've taken on a bit more of a coaching role. It's been different. It's been very challenging at times, but at times very rewarding and fun," he said.

Even though the season has had its ups and downs, both Barnes and Smith are still feeling grateful.
"I'm very fortunate for the position I am in right now. I learn new things every day. That's just the grind of coaching," said Barnes.

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