Smart's stomping grounds tour hits Indiana for hall of fame weekend

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, May 12, 2022
Arkansas assistant coach Keith Smart is shown at an NCAA Tournament practice Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas assistant coach Keith Smart is shown at an NCAA Tournament practice Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

FAYETTEVILLE — Keith Smart has been on a roll of visiting his old stomping grounds.

With head coach Eric Musselman recovering from shoulder surgery in January, Smart coached the Razorbacks to a 65-58 road win at then-No. 12 LSU in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. 

In late April he returned to Garden City Community College in Kansas, where he was inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame. Smart, prior to signing with Indiana and seeing his basketball career take off, spent two years with the Broncbusters and won Jayhawk Conference player of the year.

On Wednesday, he traveled with Musselman, assistant coach Anthony Ruta and director of basketball operations Michael Musselman to Memphis for Game 5 of the Grizzlies’ Western Conference Semifinals series against the Golden State Warriors. Smart served as an assistant for Memphis from 2016-18 under David Fizdale, and previously was an assistant and head coach of the Warriors.

The Razorbacks in March played two NCAA Tournament games at the Warriors’ home arena in San Francisco.

His tour continues this weekend as the Razorbacks’ assistant coach returns to the state of Indiana. Smart is set to be inducted into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame at a two-day event in Evansville, where a wide-ranging cast of athletes from the state are set to be honored.

The inaugural induction banquet is scheduled for Saturday and encompasses the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 due to a backup caused by the covid-19 pandemic. The hall of fame was established in 2020.

“The one (cool) thing doing all those stops and going to all the places I’ve gone is the people I’ve got the chance to meet and talk to,” Smart said this week. “I was able to keep in contact with them throughout the years, or they’ve contacted me because they saw me on TV one night. A lot of them were following us this year in the NCAA Tournament. One of my teammates, his dad took a picture with a Razorback hat he must have ordered.

“Little things like that from every place that I’ve played or coached, they all talk about what I was doing and when I was there and that I’m now coaching at Arkansas and how they’ve now become Hog fans.”

Smart, who completed his first season on the Razorbacks’ staff in 2021-22, said being around athletes from various sports is one of the more enjoyable and unique aspects of his hall of fame experience so far. He anticipates the same to be true in Indiana.

Other members of the 2022 class include LaTroy Hawkins, a Gary native who had a 21-year MLB career; Jen Childers, who was Evansville’s first female boxer and promoter; and Donald Joe Decker, a former Indiana State baseball player.

Famed MLB pitcher Tommy John, 78, who had a 26-year career and for whom the now-commonplace elbow surgery is named after, is a member of the class of 2020.

“I think when you get around all these other athletes — because it won’t just be basketball players — you get a chance to kind of see what’s taking place,” he said. “When you’re in that crowd of people…when I went into the Garden City one, you had one young lady from the rodeo who was a superstar and doing a show in New York and flew in to Garden City and was leaving the next morning to go out to L.A. for some races. You just had all these different people that were there.

“I think it’s the same way when you get in that event and it’s not just your sport talked about or presented, it’s people from all different backgrounds that are going to be there. I think that’s always great being in their presence, because here you are all going in at this particular time that weekend.”

Smart is among the list of speakers at the inaugural Greater Evansville Ball Halls of Fame "A Sports Night to Remember" Fundraiser on Friday. He is remembered best for his game-winning shot for the Hoosiers in the 1987 national championship game against Syracuse.

While he thoroughly enjoyed his time and successful run at Indiana, what he perhaps holds most dear are the people he met and friendships and connections he formed. Among his greatest influences while in Indiana were Bobby Knight and a pair of professors, one of which taught Smart geology. Knight was part of the inaugural hall of fame class in Indiana. 

Smart's in-laws live in Bloomington, and he said his father-in-law still teaches at Indiana, though he is retired. Smart appreciates those he went to school with.

He recalled when playing professionally in France a student who he shared a class with years before at Indiana attending one of his games north of Paris.

“I didn’t know him, but he knew the team that I was playing on,” Smart said. “Like I said, didn’t know him, but that’s that bond that you have.

“The classmates that I’ve had, I still keep in touch with now. We’ll start a text thread and one guy will start talking about, and this is just two weeks ago, Steve Alford had his first grandchild. Everyone started texting about that and we just started joking about how many of us now in the group can say they have grandkids.

“That will last probably two, three days where people are going back and forth and just hashing up memories from that time.”

Many more memories will likely come flooding back in the coming days as his and many others’ accomplishments are celebrated.

“Being back there, going back there from time to time,” Smart said, “people still remember the moments — not only just the championship shot, but also just playing and being on that campus.”

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