Miles Smith faced challenges early on in life that others only read about.
As a teen, he was surrounded by drug dealers. His father was in jail. Even though he was a basketball player and honors student in high school, Miles was in danger.
When his cousin was shot and killed, Miles dropped out of school. He enrolled at another high school, but then quit again. His mother, fed up with his behavior, kicked Miles out of the house.
Her tough-love approach worked.
Miles headed back to high school, graduated and landed at Mercer County Community College in Trenton, N.J. He made the basketball team and connected with a coach who gave him the support he needed.
“He was the one who talked to me about my cousin’s death and recognized how much it had affected me. He said, ‘You’ve got to talk it out. You can’t just keep it inside,’ ” Miles recalls.
After graduating from Mercer, Miles attended a college fair and met Patrick Rogers and Penny Howrigan of Johnson State’s Admissions Office. They recruited him for JSC, and the Admissions staff “became like family” to Miles.
A self-proclaimed extrovert, he signed on as an admissions tour guide. He fell in love with the field. He combined that with his love of basketball and now works as the head basketball coach and an admissions counselor at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA.
“I don’t consider myself a coach; I consider myself a teacher,” he says. “I’m teaching life lessons. I want to do what Johnson State did for me. When I’m recruiting players, my goal is to get the best individuals possible. I always think someone has a story, and I don’t know that story until I know that person. My biggest goal is to build a relationship with every kid I have.”
Miles learned how to develop players by observing his basketball coach, Michael Osborne, who molded him into a team leader at Johnson State.
Osborne used to say, “ ‘You know what I expect from you guys. I want you to be leaders on and off the court,’ ” Miles recalls. “The way he connected with his players, he was a role model for us, realizing the potential we had and bringing it out of us. I still call him for advice to this day.”
Miles also credits his professors – especially Jerry Himelstein, Susan Green and N.E. Bou-Nacklie – with encouraging his success.
“They taught me how to think critically. They helped me get where I am now. I would call Bou or Jerry at 11 on a Saturday morning, just to talk. I had their home numbers.”
On the wall of his office at Wilson College, Miles keeps a picture snapped of him, Jerry and Bou at 2009 Commencement.
“Everyone at Johnson State really cares about every individual at the institution. From the custodians to the security officers to the faculty members to the people in admissions, they welcomed me from the time I showed up to the time I left,” Miles says. “You don’t have relationships that last for four years at Johnson State. You have relationships that last a lifetime.”