FAYETTEVILLE – As a collegiate basketball player Keith Smart came to Indiana via Arkansas.
Now as a collegiate assistant coach Smart comes to Arkansas via Indiana.
Announced earlier in the week as his latest assistant by Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman for whom Smart played with the Rapid City Thrillers and Florida Beachdogs in the professionally developmental Continental Basketball Association and then assisted in the NBA when Musselman head coached the Golden State Warriors, Smart met with Arkansas media Friday by Zoom.
Still reverently remembered in Indiana for his 1987 national championship game winning shot over Syracuse, Smart resurfaced on the collegiate scene this spring. He was interviewed by Indiana for its head coaching vacancy eventually bequeathed to Mike Woodson, also a Hoosiers alum and former NBA head coach.
“They called and I went through the process with them and that kind of got my juices flowing a little bit about potentially going into college and coaching,” Smart said.
Out of coaching this 2020-2021 campaign after assisting New York Knicks Coach David Fizdale who was fired post the 2019-2020 season, Smart has long kept in touch with Musselman. Especially this year.
“I wasn’t involved with the NBA,” Smart said. “So I just looked at college coaches and what they were doing and of course I’m following Eric and other coaching friends that I have. That started to get me moving in that direction.”
Knowing former Golden State and Sacramento Kings NBA head coach Musselman got into college coaching as an assistant at LSU and then head coach at the University of Nevada before these last two seasons directing Arkansas, former NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State and Sacramento head coach Smart sees his old mentor teaching him the recruiting nuances.
“When there was some availability for the staff, he (Musselman) said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?” Smart said. “I didn’t hesitate. I said, ‘If I’m going to look at college, what better place and better person to be around to grow into it?’
Ironic that it’s at Arkansas. Former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson was recruiting Smart transferring from Garden City (Kan.) Junior College up to Smart signing with Coach Bob Knight and Indiana,
“Arkansas was in my top five,” Smart said. “Coach Richardson wanted me to visit over a weekend when they had a game but I was scheduled to visit Indiana. I came to Arkansas in the middle of the week and went to Indiana that weekend.”
Smart said of the NBA prowess then of Eddie Sutton era Razorbacks Sidney Moncrief, Darrell Walker and Alvin Robertson kept him Arkansas interested though was ultimately last swayed attending an Indiana game.
Smart gets it both ways now, adding Arkansas coaching experience to his playing experience from Indiana.
While Smart knows he will learn the differences coaching the college game from Musselman and assistants Clay Mosier and Gus Argenal, he knows he has professional wisdom to impart.
“For each of these young men I’m going to come in contact with every road they are going to try and travel on I’ve been on that road already,” Smart said. “I can share with them.”
Smart has been the passed over recruit consigned to junior college become Indiana legend. He was a NBA draft choice then NBA cut by the San Antonio Spurs and played on the European circuit before three years coaching Fort Wayne in the CBA advanced to 19 years in the NBA and now coaching Razorbacks after their Elite Eight season.
“I know the game of basketball and all those things you need to do in relationship building,” Smart said. “And then what I don’t know, I’m in a great environment to learn from him (Musselman) and grow from his staff as well.