Smart forever linked to IU through “The Shot”

It still happens almost every day.

Through his travels as an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies, Keith Smart is stopped in airports, hotels and metropolitan areas across the NBA’s geographic footprint. When someone spots the name on his bags or recognizes his face, Smart knows what’s about to come next.

“People will say, ‘Boy, I remember where I was when you made that shot,’” Smart said this week. “I’ve either helped someone or hurt someone by making the shot.”

Smart’s game-winning jumper in the final seconds of Indiana’s 74-73 victory over Syracuse in the 1987 national championship game is one of college basketball’s iconic moments, fondly remembered on Hoosier soil and beyond.

Last month, Indiana recognized “The Shot” with a monument inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. On Friday, the school will go a step further, inducting Smart into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It was very surprising to me,” Smart said. “I never thought of that happening. When (Indiana athletic director Fred Glass) called me and said he wanted to be the first to let me know I was being inducted, I was completely blown away, because I wasn’t that super All-American or anything like that. I just came in and did my job.”

A two-year player for the Hoosiers, Smart transferred to IU in 1986 after beginning his college career at Garden City Community College in Kansas.

His relationship with Indiana, however, began during the 1984-85 season after a game against Barton County Community College, which featured Todd Jadlow and Andre Harris, who both went on to play at Indiana.

“We played that night against those two guys, and I had a really good game,” Smart said. “From there, I started being recruited by them.”

The Baton Rouge, La., native remembered watching Isiah Thomas and Indiana take down Louisiana State during the Hoosiers’ title run through the 1981 NCAA Tournament, but knew little else about IU basketball. On the surface, there wasn’t much that appealed.

A visit to Bloomington and a meeting with former coach Bob Knight changed Smart’s view.

“Coach Knight took me into the Hall and walked me onto the court,” Smart said, “and as I looked up at the banners in the back swaying back and forth, he said, ‘We have a chance this year to win a national championship.’”

Knight told Smart about incoming transfer Dean Garrett, a center from California, and how Smart could be the perfect backcourt complement to captain Steve Alford.

He was sold.

Smart started 31 of the 34 games he played during IU’s 1987 national championship season, averaging 11.2 points, shooting 51 percent from the field and dishing 3.2 assists per game.

He poured in 21 points during the title game, while adding six assists, five rebounds and two steals. Although Smart will be forever connected to “The Shot” in the Syracuse game, his best overall performance came during IU’s second game of that year’s tournament when he fell one rebound shy of a triple-double with 20 points, an IU single-game record 15 assists and nine rebounds against Auburn.

“There were so many other memories of how our team came together toward the midseason, where Coach Knight shared with us that we weren’t a good team,” said Smart, the 1987 Final Four Most Outstanding Player. “In actuality, as I’m coaching now, you know when you’re a good team and when you’re not. I think what that did was it kept us growing.”

Smart, who averaged 12.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists during his two years at Indiana, was drafted in the second round by Golden State in the 1988 NBA Draft and played two games that season for San Antonio.

It was the beginning of a winding playing career in professional basketball that took Smart to France, the Philippines and Venezuela. When his playing career ended with the Continental Basketball Association’s Fort Wayne Fury in 1997, Knight wanted Smart to join the coaching staff at Indiana.

Then came an opportunity to become Fort Wayne’s head coach.

“Coach kind of steered me in that direction, saying, ‘You need to go there and take a look at it, because you’ve been out of school now for nine years and some of your peers who are in coaching now are in that second tier of coaching,’” Smart said.

By 2000, Smart was an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers, working on a staff that also included former Hoosiers Randy Wittman, Cleveland’s coach, and fellow assistant Mike Woodson. Smart has been in the NBA ever since, including head coaching gigs with the Cavs, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.

Memphis is the latest stop in Smart’s basketball life, a path through the sport that began in earnest during his time in Bloomington.

With his hall of fame induction this weekend, Smart will take another step into the annals of Indiana basketball.

“It’s a great honor for me,” he said. “I appreciate all the people who helped steer me in that direction to have the chance to go to IU and have the chance to play there — the coaches, my family and friends.”

8 comments

  1. Congratulations and thanks for the great thrill, Keith. I too remember exactly where I was and who I was with when you made “the shot.” I’ve never been more thrilled than I was the moment that shot went down.

  2. Was it Daryl Thomas who found him with the assist because I’m sure Alford would have jacked it? But didn’t Alford score a boatload and hit the halftime buzzer beater from the corner? 30 years ago….Wow. We’re sort of due.

    Can’t remember where I was at…Just remember the utter jubilation.

    1. Alford had a great game and was likely the MVP…for the entire game. Keith had a good game but a steller last few minutes.

      It’s all about closing the deal.

      Not many players ever had the overall Final Four performance Alford had, though. UNLV suffered SNL jokes about him.

      1. …and prior to the UNLV game all we heard about was their ‘swarming D’…+ player declarations of intimidating Alford into poor play…anybody remember Knight’s reply to that?…

        1. I remember what Jerry Tarkanian said about him after the game. “He’s a lot faster than he looks but…then…white kids always are.”

          1. Chet, Recall that 1 too. Paraphrasing RMK’s retort, how the hell does anyone intimidate Steve when he’s spent 4 years with me. His actual quote maybe more blunt and possibly flamboyant. But it was vintage Bobby and a real gem which I thought the sporting press kinda missed on. 1 of very few.

          2. In postgame interviews, I do recall the UNLV guys referring to him as Steve “The Comb Glide” Alford….

            The stable hair was not only a point of Brylcreem and crimson distraction, but a great deceptive tool to conceal Alford’s speed. Tarkanian scouted the motionless hair, but nothing could prepare his team for Comb Glide’s blow-by-a-blow-dry first step defying all laws of a Maravich do.

  3. “Coach Knight took me into the Hall and walked me onto the court,” Smart said, “and as I looked up at the banners in the back swaying back and forth, he said, ‘We have a chance this year to win a national championship.’”

    Wonderful job there, Mike. Really nicely written. More skills than I’ll ever know.
    I know it’s simply a quote you inserted, but it’s the buildup and where you placed it that made it more powerful and brought back the old b-ball chills. Banners, bitches…Banners.

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