Mike Smelkinson has always held his hometown close to his heart.
That’s why, even after making the decision to leave his position as head men’s basketball coach at Howard Community College for a similar role at Harford Community College in 2014, the Long Reach High grad (2004) never closed the door on an eventual reunion.
And this spring, when the right opportunity finally presented itself, Smelkinson knew the time had come to return to where it all began.
As of Tuesday, Smelkinson is officially back with the Dragons — reassuming the reigns of the men’s basketball program and this time around also taking on the role of Assistant Athletic Director as well.
“I’m extremely appreciative for my time [at Harford], I grew a lot as a person and as a coach. But there’s just something to be said for being able to work where you grew up,” Smelkinson said. “My wife, Amber, and I grew up together in Howard County … we live in Howard County now. So yes, the opportunity to come back and work here again too in this expanded role is very exciting for me.
“I view this decision as a long-term commitment for me toward growing the program and putting out a product the community can get behind … and, in my mind, it starts with local Howard County talent.”
Smelkinson’s credentials as a coach capable of turning programs around is well documented.
In his first stint at Howard Community College that started in 2011, he inherited a program that won six games before his arrival and two years later led it to a Region 20 title and a National tournament appearance. In his three years coaching the Dragons, the team improved its win total each season with a peak of 19 victories in 2013-14.
Smelkinson then spearheaded a similar revival at Harford, taking over a Fighting Owls team that won just five times the year before he arrived and turning things around to win 19 games in his first campaign. During his tenure, Harford went 103-53 while winning two Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference titles and two region championships as well.
Smelkinson became the all-time wins leader in program history from a coaching standpoint at Harford this past season.
So the thought of trying to turn around a Dragons’ program that is coming off a 4-22 season isn’t particularly daunting for Smelkinson. In fact, he thinks the revival will be even faster than it was during his first stint at the helm.
“I plan to pick up right where I left off last time I was here so that adjustment period should be significantly shorter. And that first time I came on board very late, basically early August, and I was unable to recruit that first season. This time that shouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “But more than anything, I feel like I’ve become a significantly better coach during my time away and I’m looking forward to taking what I learned and bringing it back.”
As for his penchant for building around local Howard County talent, that too is well documented.
During his first stint with the Dragons, Smelkinson landed Howard County all-county players Omari Ringgold (Centennial) and James Peters (Oakland Mills). Then during his five years at Harford, his teams included all-county performers Aaron McDonald (Reservoir), Tre Morgan (Long Reach), Isaiah White (Centennial), Naquan Williams-Day (Oakland Mills) and Deshawn Willis (Oakland Mills).
Smelkinson isn’t against recruiting elsewhere — he’s done so very successfully over the years — but he also knows what kind of players are growing up right in the backyard of the community college.
“I’ve said it many times before, but I really feel like Howard County is an underrated county in terms of basketball and you just look at the track record these last 10 years on a state level and you can see what these players and teams are capable of,” he said. “So I feel like part of my job is showing them that there’s nothing wrong with staying close to home and helping them realize all that this program and school have to offer.”
In addition to the coaching side of things, Smelkinson will be in charge of eligibility and compliance for all HCC athletes as part of his Assistant Athletic Director duties. He also will work closely with Athletic Director Erin Foley, helping her oversee the entire athletic department and continue the initiatives she began putting in place after taking over for Diane Schumacher last summer.
Smelkinson said he’s thankful for the opportunity provided by Foley to have an influence outside of just basketball.
“The coaching is obviously a big piece of it for me, but I’m equally as excited to work with Erin and trying to help her accomplish her vision,” Smelkinson said. “It’s clear to me that she has the right ideas about what can be done here moving forward.”
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports