Four to receive special awards from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association
Bradley, Smiley, Higdon and Abdullah to be honored for contributions to basketball programs over the years
Four Indiana high school coaches will receive special awards from the Indiana Basketball Association in 2021.
Lawrenceburg boys basketball assistant coach Steve Bradley and Brownsburg girls head coach Debbie Smiley each will be recognized with a Point Guard College Transformational Coach Award as presented by the IBCA. In addition, Edinburgh boys basketball assistant Jim Higdon and Penn girls basketball assistant Hassan Abdullah will receive awards as IBCA Assistant Coaches of the Year.
This is the fifth year for the PGC Transformation Coach Awards, which are presented to coaches who have impacted the lives of their players and fellow coaches at their school and within their community. The recipients are coaches who are respected by their players and fellow coaches for their dedication, positive approach and integrity on and oﬀ the court. Point Guard College is a corporate partner of the IBCA.
This is the fourth year that the IBCA is recognizing assistant coaches with an award. The awards are going to two coaches who have contributed in a significant way to their respective schools’ athletic programs with many years of service.
These awards will be presented at the IBCA’s one-day, in-person clinic on Oct. 16 at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. The IBCA also will offer a “virtual clinic” in 2021 with video presentations by the IBCA District Coaches of the Year — six boys coaches and six girls coaches — available online beginning April 23.
Previous PGC Transformational Coach Awards have gone to Gary Cook of North Decatur in 2017; Gary West’s Chris Buggs and Switzerland County’s Adam Dennis in 2018; John Glenn’s Travis Hannah in 2019; and Columbus North’s RaNae Isaak and Speedway’s Jim Merlie in 2020.
Previous IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year honors have gone to Union County’s Roger Bowling in 2018; Jeffersonville’s Clark Miles and Crawfordsville’s Danny Pierce in 2019; and North Putnam’s Jim Brothers and Hamilton Heights’ J.R. Moffatt in 2020.
Information on the four coaches to be honored for 2021 follows.
Transformational Coach: Steve Bradley, Lawrenceburg boys’ assistant
Steve Bradley has had a major impact on his players over the years at Lawrenceburg High School, assisting in the boys’ basketball program since 1995 while also working as a probation officer for the past 30 years.
Bradley has been the Tigers’ freshman boys’ basketball coach for 26 seasons.
“Steve’s greatest quality is that he always finds a way for every player to help the team,” said Brad Cutter, the Tigers’ varsity coach and one of several people to nominate Bradley for the Point Guard College Transformational Coach Award as presented by the IBCA.
“Steve is great at coaching each player individually and focusing on how to make it a positive experience for them. His positive approach and love for coaching our student-athletes is contagious. He is great at finding the good things from a defeat and the good things from a player who may not be able to contribute as much as another.”
East Central varsity boys’ basketball coach David Disbro praised Bradley.
“Steve has been a loyal assistant to at least four head coaches,” said Disbro, who noted their relationship dates nearly 40 years to when Bradley played at Lawrenceburg and Disbro played at rival South Dearborn. “He not only coaches the freshman team but also is a varsity assistant who is one of the best scouts in southeastern Indiana. There have been many years that I think we should give Steve an ‘East Central letter’ because he sees us play so often. He has become a good friend whom I admire.”
Bradley said he made a conscious decision about 18 years ago to “not put an emphasis on winning” and simply make the experience of playing freshman basketball as positive as possible by teaching values, fundamentals and having fun.
“Coincidentally, I have not had a losing season since I ‘de-emphasized’ winning,” Bradley said. “I recognized that more than half the players on freshman rosters never may take a shot in a varsity basketball game. Thus, the experience needs to be fun and worthwhile.”
In the community, Bradley has 30 years experience as a probation officer for the Dearborn and Ohio County Circuit Court Probation Department.
Nick Scalf, another Lawrenceburg coach, mentioned how Bradley has taught life skills that carry beyond the court.
“Steve has deal with many situations with players over the years during a crucial stage of their development as young men and handled these situations with calmness, respect, wisdom and experience,” Scalf said. “I truly feel he has made a lasting impact on their lives, and they would tell you the same. As a probation officer, he also has made an amazing impact on numerous lives in our community. He has incredible people skills, and he deals with situations with an amazing calmness and class.”
Aaron Cornett, a former Lawrenceburg athlete and now a parent of current Lawrenceburg athletes, concurred.
“Coach Bradley has impacted multiple generations of student-athletes in our community,” Cornett said. “As a 16-year-old, I noticed the intensity and competitiveness that he brought to our practices. It was easy to see how he cared for the team by pushing each player to become better through hard work and positive reinforcement.
“The experience that each of my boys have had playing for him has been similar. I have seen their enjoyment of the game increase. More importantly, their confidence on and off the court has grown as well. The community of Lawrenceburg and the hundreds of young men he has coached have benefited from him in countless ways that carry on long after their playing days have ended.”
Ryan Knigga, another Tigers’ coach, and Joe Vogelgesang, a former Lawrenceburg athletic director and coach, echoed those thoughts.
“Coach Bradley and his family have been members of the Lawrenceburg community for more than 40 years,” Knigga said. “He is a stakeholder in our community and someone who is respected by all.”
Vogelgesang used the words loyalty, consistency and integrity to describe Bradley.
“I have worked in Lawrenceburg schools for 23 years, and coach Bradley has been a staple of the staff for all those years and longer,” Vogelgesang said. “He has a deep caring for all the student-athletes and he also has worked in the probation office with those struggling to correct their ways to so they can lead a life as a productive citizen.”
Bradley drew an analogy from his coaching philosophy to his professional philosophy.
“My approach to coaching basketball has been paralleled by my approach supervising people who are on probation,” he said. “It is not good enough to simply ‘follow the rules.’ My people need to improve their lives and be successful.”
A 1983 graduate of Lawrenceburg, Bradley earned two letters in basketball, two letters in football, four letters in golf and one letter in baseball. He was all-conference in basketball once and all-conference in golf three times.
He matriculated to Davidson College, earning a bachelor’s degree in history in 1987. He later earned a master’s degree in kinesiology and sports management from Indiana University in 1989. At Davidson, he played four years of football, starting off-and-on at quarterback over his last three seasons and still is 10th on David’s career list for completions.
Bradley has been the freshman boys’ basketball coach at Lawrenceburg from 1995 to the present, some seasons also serving as a varsity assistant. He also was an assistant football coach from 1987-97 and again from 2005-10. Professionally, Bradley began work for as a probation officer in 1991. He became the chief probation officer for that office in 1993, a position he has held for 28 years.
Transformational Coach: Debbie Smiley, Brownsburg girls’ head coach
Debbie Smiley is a winner of PGC Transformational Coach Award after guiding the Brownsburg girls’ basketball team to a 17-11 season that included a Class 4A state runner-up finish. While many teams overcame adversity because of COVID-19 during this past season, Smiley’s Bulldogs faced more challenges than most but came together for a memorable postseason run.
“Debbie coached most of the season without several key components of her team,” said Brownsburg boys’ coach Steve Lynch, who nominated Smiley for the award. “Her team was without two or three starters and several key reserves until at least the middle of January.
“Still, she kept the girls together and saw steady improvements along the way. As the team began to regain players and confidence, you could tell how well they were starting to play. I thought her steady, consistent coaching really helped keep the girls steady when things were not looking good for them.”
Beyond Smiley’s on-court guidance, she also has helped her team make a difference in the Brownsburg community.
“Debbie works hard to coach the girls in her program and has involved them heavily in the community until the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lynch said. “The girls are very engaged in our community. Prior to this season, you could see how our school coaches and athletes support each other at other events around our school. Debbie always makes sure our girls are supporting other sports.”
Smiley earlier was named an IBCA District 2 Coach of the Year for 2020-21. She has directed Brownsburg to a 108-49 record in six seasons and has a 235-182 ledger in 18 seasons as a varsity coach, including 12 years at Greenwood. She served as head coach for the 2019 Indiana All-Stars and head coach of the 2018 Junior All-Stars. She also was an IBCA District 2 Coach of the Year in 2018, and she was HCC Coach of the Year in 2018 and 2021.
Smiley is a 1991 graduate of Rushville, where she played for four seasons for Hall of Fame coach Cinda Brown. She then went to Franklin College, where she played for the Grizzlies, earned a bachelor’s in biology in 1995 and added a bachelor’s in secondary education in 1997. Smiley received her master’s in education from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2002.
Smiley began her coaching career as a women’s basketball assistant at Franklin College from 1995-2001. She then assisted in the Greenwood girls’ program for two seasons before taking over as the Lady Woodmen head coach from 2003-15. She became the Brownsburg head coach in 2015.
Smiley has been a biology teacher for 24 years, and she also previously coached cross country for 20 years (18 years as a head coach) and track & field for 16 years (10 years as a head coach).
Smiley and her husband, Brian, are parents to six children – Kiera, 17; Zoe, 16; Ava, 15; Gracie, 12; Jaxon, 10; and Maximus, 6.
IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year: Jim Higdon, Edinburgh boys
Jim Higdon has made the difference for teenagers in general and basketball players in specific across Johnson County for more than four decades.
An assistant coach the past two seasons at Edinburgh High School, Higdon previously assisted at Franklin Community High School for 28 seasons and Whiteland High School for seven seasons. He undoubtedly has left his mark at all three schools in a 37-year span and is an IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year for 2021.
“Jim is a caring person who always is able to see the possibilities and potential in the athletes with whom he has worked,” said Keith Witty, the boys’ head coach at Edinburgh. “Our players know he will push them to be their best, but he also is someone they can talk with when there is a problem.”
Higdon has coached teams from fifth grade through varsity throughout the years, yet he never has been a high school head coach as he also as he also worked as a juvenile probation officer and superintendent of the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center as well as serving on the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office merit board.
“To say that he has helped shape the youth of Johnson County would be an understatement,” Witty said.
Matt Wadsworth, whom Higdon assisted at Whiteland, offered additional perspective.
“The patience that Jim learned in his professional career carried over into coaching,” said Wadworth, currently the boys head coach at Edgewood. “He always set a high standard for players and was never one afraid to challenge a player when he was not living up to his potential. At the same time, he could offer encouragement to a player after a bad game, a bad practice or a butt chewing from the head coach.
“Jim’s greatest asset is that he never gives up on kids. He knows from experience that players need guidance and encouragement when they make a mistake on or off the court.”
On the basketball court, Witty noted Higdon’s impact.
“Jim is someone who has been through everything – sectional, regional, county and conference championships, winning seasons and losing seasons,” Witty said. “Through it all, he has remained the same passionate person on the sideline. … Our players have gained so much from what he brings, from break-down drills with our post players or conversations on the sideline during practice. Our players look to Jim for assistance when they are struggling.”
Wadsworth noted that Higdon was on the Whiteland staff when the Warriors won back-to-back Johnson County championships, the school’s first since 1955.
“His efforts at Whiteland rebuilt a struggling program, working with post players and preparing scouting reports for opponents,” Wadsworth said. “Still, winning is not Jim’s primary objective. He always has looked to help players develop into quality young men with moral integrity. Jim has impacted the lives of many players throughout his coaching career.”
Higdon began his role as a coach in 1983-84 working for Tom McKinney at Franklin Community High School. He sat out the 1984-85 season, but returned to Franklin in 1985-86 and worked in the Grizzly Cubs’ program for 27 additional seasons totaling four seasons for McKinney, seven seasons for Steve Bennett and 16 seasons for Dave Clark. He followed by assistant Wadsworth at Whiteland from 2012-19, then moved to Edinburgh to assist Witty the past two seasons.
In his 37 seasons, the varsity teams at the three schools have an aggregate record of 438-399 with four Johnson County, six conference and nine sectional titles as well as one regional crown. The regional trophy came in 1997 at Franklin, the last year of non-class basketball when the Cubs reached the semi-state final before falling to eventual state runner-up Delta. As a freshman team coach at Franklin, Higdon’s team went 113-67 with two Mid-State Conference titles in 10 seasons.
A 1968 graduate of Greenwood High School, Higdon played four years of basketball, three years of baseball, ran cross country for one year and was the Woodmen baseball MVP as a senior. He initially attended Vincennes University after high school, then earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education at IUPUI.
Professionally, Higdon became a juvenile probation officer in 1976 and served in that role for 14 years. He then was selected to be the first superintendent of the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center, a position he held for 24 years before retiring in 2014.
Higdon and his wife, Mary Pat, have been married for 44 years. They have two adult sons – Brian, an IHSAA basketball official, and Michael, the JV boys’ basketball coach at Greenwood – and four grandchildren.
IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year: Hassan Abdullah, Penn girls
Hassan Abdullah has made a distinct impact over the past 12 seasons to everyone involved in the Penn High School girls’ basketball program. That is according to Penn girls’ varsity coach Kristi Ulrich, who nominated Abdullah for consideration as an IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year for 2021.
“Coach Hassan has greatly touched and enriched the lives of our players year after year,” Ulrich said. “He is passionate and loves to coach. He greatly enjoys teaching and helping young people see the best in themselves as they grow and develop from year to year.
“He genuinely cares about our players, regardless of whether they are past, present or future Kingsmen. From attending college games, middle school games, graduation parties, running clinics, checking in with a text or helping guide players make tough decisions, Coach Hassan always is there to provide stability and be a significant male role model for our program.”
Over the past 12 seasons, Penn has a state-best aggregate record of 277-36 in girls’ basketball – a .885 win percentage. During that span, the Kingsmen have won 10 sectionals, six regionals, three semi-states and the Class 4A state championship in 2016. Abdullah, who previously assisted for six seasons at other high schools, has had a key role in Penn player development at the high school level as well as serving as assistant director of the Lady Kingsmen feeder program that runs each fall.
“There is no one more loyal to their head coach, their program and their school than Coach Hassan,” Ulrich said. He does everything to support me as the head coach and uphold the philosophy of the program. He is open minded and always willing to grow, and he is a true ‘student of the game.’ He is open and honest with me as the head coach and not just a ‘yes man.’
“At the same time, he is enthusiastic, upbeat and positive. He sets an example for the players to follow both on and off the court. He is a servant leader, humble, carries himself with a high level of integrity and takes great pride in the program. There is no one I would rather go to battle with other than Coach Hassan Abdullah.”
Abdullah is a 1983 graduate of Niles High School in Michigan, where he competed in football, basketball and track. He attended Bloom High School in Chicago Heights, Ill., for a portion of his senior year – placing sixth in the high hurdles in the Illinois state track meet – but returned to Niles to graduate.
He went on to Prairie State College and South Suburban College, playing basketball for one season at each school. At Prairie State, he was selected to the all-tournament team at the Maui Invitational in 1985. At South Suburban, he was part of a nationally ranked team in 1986.
Abdullah started his coaching career in the mid-1990s with recreational teams, developmental teams and travel teams. He served as a men’s basketball assistant in 2002-03 for Ancilla College, a girls’ basketball assistant at Mishawaka in 2003-04, a boys’ basketball assistant in 2004-05 at Elkhart Central, a girls’ basketball assistant at Mishawaka in 2005-06 and a boys’ basketball assistant at Elkhart Central in 2006-09 before joining the Penn girls’ staff.
Abdullah is in his eighth year as an assistant groundskeeper for the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. He previously worked as the Freshman Connections Supervisor for Penn High School from 2009-13.
“Coach Hassan has been a loyal individual to our PHM community not only as a coach, but he also is one of the corporation’s head groundskeepers,” Ulrich said. “This allows him to be involved with a lot of our sports on our main campus and travel around the corporation to keep our schools looking great. He is respected across the entire corporation as a professional who works hard and is devoted to the black and gold.”
Abdullah has three adult children – Brandon, Byron and Antreese – as well as three grandchildren.