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St. Helena girls basketball

St. Helena head coach Darol Smith instructs his players during a practice earlier in the year.

St. Helena varsity girls basketball head coach Darol Smith has yet to walk significantly since undergoing knee surgery two weeks ago, but said he’s in good spirits and hopes to return to sidelines, he said on Tuesday.

Speaking via phone from a rehab facility at Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center, Smith, 84, said he’s still in serious pain but remains optimistic about the future.

“I talked to (St. Helena Athletic Director) Tom (Hoppe) and said if I can be up again by spring time, I’ll try to come back out and coach again,” said Smith. “But I can’t promise anything right now.”

Smith had surgery to mend a 14-year old knee replacement that suddenly became infected one weekend. He was at a San Jose Sharks hockey game several Saturdays ago when he felt a nagging pain in his knee. It was so bad that he needed a wheelchair to get around.

He said his knee had swollen “to the size of a cantaloupe” by the time he got home that night.

“It just puffed up really big,” he said. “I guess it was infected. Why? I don’t know. I had never had any trouble before with it.”

He went to the hospital the next day, and doctors drained what Smith said was about “a quart” of liquid from his knee. After conducting a blood test, doctors eventually recommended surgery because the infection was serious enough that it could’ve spread to his heart and been life-threatening.

“It got scary as it went along,” Smith said.

Smith is still battling the infection and said he’ll be on antibiotics for the next nine weeks.

Doctors also removed his knee replacement and inserted a spacer in his knee to help fight the infection. A spacer is a medical device often used to treat infected knee replacements. The type that Smith got installed in his knee is made of antibiotic cement that will help fight the infection.

Smith was released from the hospital several days after surgery and has been recovering in an assisted-living facility since.

As far as his knee goes, Smith said “it still hurts horribly,” but added he’s focused on his recovery efforts.

This was Smith’s first year at the helm of the Saints’ varsity team. He came to St. Helena in 2016, following Kate Shipp-Roberts, to whom he served as an assistant coach for years.

Tuesday was also the Saints Senior Night, which Smith was unable to attend.

“I miss them,” he said of his team. “And I hope to be back.”

While the Saints are 4-19 overall this season, Smith said that he enjoyed coaching this group and that their win-loss record doesn’t reflect the kind of season they had.

“I thought we had a good year, maybe not in the wins and losses category, but I think overall we had fun and got better,” Smith said. “It was a good year.”

The Saints had their Senior Night on Tuesday and senior Citlali Garcia wished Smith well.

“Coach Smith is super awesome and we’re all wishing him the best,” she said.

In five decades on the sidelines, Smith has coached boys and girls basketball at several different high schools in the North Bay. He was also an assistant coach at the College of Marin when the Mariners went 33-5 and advanced to the California Community College State Championship Final Four for women’s basketball.

He led girls basketball teams at Terra Linda, Casa Grande, Elsie Allen and San Rafael. On the boys side, he spent several years as the head coach at Terra Linda, where he led the Trojans to the 1988 state finals. He also coached the boys team at Lick-Wilmerding in San Francisco.

Before getting into coaching, Smith earned a scholarship to play basketball at the University of San Francisco, where he played with NBA legend Bill Russell in the early 1950s. He was also a standout prep player in San Francisco during high school.

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Sports Reporter