TAMPA — He has spent the better part of 18 years transcending the big brother archetype. As Charles Smith has learned, when you’ve got a 16-year jump on your youngest sibling, you assume a series of roles.
You sign on as a rec league coach, a chauffeur, even a periodic tutor. When your father dies in a car accident — as Charles Smith Sr. did more than a half-decade ago — you even evolve into a surrogate dad.
“Anything I needed, he was there,” 18-year-old Blake senior Andre Smith says of 34-year-old Charles.
“Financially, anything with homework, he still is like that. Both my brothers (including 32-year-old Bryan) were like that. Charles was definitely there for me, still is, and just did whatever I needed.”
Friday, he’ll be at Andre’s side again, in his most dreamlike grown-up role yet.
Charles, a Blake assistant who essentially has run the team this season during veteran coach Winston Davis’ gradual recovery from brain surgery, helps lead the Yellow Jackets into the Class 4A state tournament. Andre, the point guard, comes in as the Jackets’ top scorer.
“It hasn’t hit me,” said Charles, an independent pharmacist who has taken a leave of absence from his job to help run the team this season. “I’ve been coaching Andre since he was 6 or 7 years old in Temple Terrace rec leagues and AAU all these years. It’s been different in high school and now at this level it’s surreal.”
And, truth be told, darned near seamless.
Sure, disagreements arise. Andre says he gets perturbed if he feels Charles is getting in his grill unjustifiably. Charles says he’s certain Andre can’t wait to get to college next year just to hear a fresh voice yell at him. But by most accounts, the two have been able to separate their blood ties from their basketball ones.
In Blake basketball settings, Andre refers to Charles as Coach Smith, junior guard Brandon Channer said.
“He’s been coaching me for a while so I’m kind of used to it,” said Andre, who will play next season at Division I-A Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
“I just know he has to be hard on me because if he’s not, everybody else will think, ‘Hey, if Dre gets away with it then we can get away with it.’ …Sometimes it bothers me but I’m used to it.”
Friday at the Lakeland Center, Charles, along with Davis (who happens to be the Smiths’ uncle) and fellow assistant Marlin Steward, will direct the Jackets for the 31st time this season, against Leesburg.
As always, Andre — now a far more vocal point guard than in past seasons — will serve as Charles’ extension on the court. When dribbling upcourt, he’ll likely look to Charles for an offensive signal from time to time, glancing at him through a player-coach prism.
Truth be told, Andre sees so much more in his oldest brother. He has for years.
“If you didn’t know (Charles),” Channer said, “you’d think he was his father.”
At the Lakeland Center. Admission is $9 per session; parking is $7 per day. The finals will air on BHSN.
4A: Palatka vs. Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, 10 a.m.; Leesburg vs. Blake, 2:30 p.m.
5A: Fort Walton Beach vs. Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, 11:30 a.m.; Lake Wales vs. Gibbs, 8:30
6A: Orlando Dr. Phillips vs. Miramar, 4 p.m.; Winter Park vs. Miami Columbus, 7 p.m.
On the Web
We’ll be live blogging from the games involving local teams, and check out photo galleries at tampabay.com/hometeam.