Before this season, last year's eight-win total was the most by the Bears since 1995, Smith said. Many of those seasons since have been just one or two win seasons and even winless seasons, he said.
When Smith accepted the head coaching job five years ago, Noble had one of the worst basketball programs in the state.
At the time, Smith's experience as a basketball coach was limited to one year as former Noble coach Leroy Combs' assistant and two years as the freshmen coach.
Smith was the offensive coordinator on Noble's football staff when he decided to apply for the position as head basketball coach.
“I don't know what kind of applicants they had,” Smith said. “It had been a couple of months since the other coach resigned and we still didn't have anybody. I thought I could do a good job.
“I thought we had kids here who could play. I thought we just weren't giving them a chance to be successful because we had such a high turnover in coaches.”
Smith became Noble's fourth coach in four seasons. He admits rebuilding the program was much harder then he thought it would be.
To learn the game, he attended basketball clinics, watched YouTube videos and read as much as possible.
When Noble would get immediately eliminated from the playoffs after one game the past four years, Smith would visit several other teams in the Suburban Conference and watch them practice. No coach ever denied him the opportunity to watch and learn.
Smith stayed the course, even when the Bears continued to lose.
“Those first three years were tough,” Smith said. “You question yourself every day.”
Now, Noble has the chance to make a school history with a win in the state tournament. The Bears are 0-2 in their previous state tournament appearances in 1991 and 1995.
Noble (14-13) meets Lawton MacArthur at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sapulpa High School.
“I just kept telling myself it's going to pay off sometime if we keep working the way we do, and it finally has,” Smith said. “The kids have worked really hard and it's very rewarding to see them succeed in the playoffs.”