Greg Hansen: Smith looks at life, UA days in book

2013-05-02T00:00:00Z 2013-05-02T18:20:58Z Greg Hansen: Smith looks at life, UA days in bookGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Anyone who writes a book and calls it "The Cornerstone of Arizona Basketball" either has an XXL-size ego, an NBA contract worth tens of millions, or must be a certified Sun Devil killer from Wichita, Kan.

After all, UA basketball isn't a three-bedroom, two-bath flat with an eroding foundation.

In the new e-book "The Cornerstone of Arizona Basketball: The Eddie Smith Story," Steve Kerr writes a foreword that says: "I truly believe there were three people most responsible for (Arizona's) quick turnaround: One, of course, was Lute Olson. He was the architect. The other two were Eddie Smith and Pete Williams."

Eddie Smith, the Sun Devil killer from Wichita, Kan., turns 50 this summer.

"I had so much to say, so much to put on paper," he says in a conversation from Stockbridge, Ga., where he is a longtime teacher, school administrator and motivational speaker. "Sometimes you wonder if people still remember you."

Who wouldn't remember Eddie Smith?

In two of the most significant games of the Lute Olson era, program-turning, destiny-shaping upset victories against ASU in Tempe - games that changed Arizona's reputation and reach - Eddie Smith won both with dramatic shots.

The first, in February 1984, when the Wildcats were 5-15, was a bank shot at he buzzer, 65-64.

The next, in January 1985, in the Pac-10 opener, was a 61-60 legend-making game in which Arizona overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 34 seconds, with Smith scoring all seven points, including an old-fashioned three-point play with three seconds left.

Until Smith showed up on campus, ASU owned the Wildcats, winning nine straight and 23 of 30 dating to 1971.

Smith accomplished much more in his career than simply sweeping ASU, becoming one of Olson's early All-Pac-10 players and resetting the direction of Arizona basketball. At South High School in Wichita, Kan., Smith made the winning basket in the 1981 state championship game. He then led NJCAA power Dodge City Community College to consecutive records of 25-5 and 27-7, becoming an honorable mention All-American.

He initially committed to play with future NBA standout Leon Wood at Cal State-Fullerton but changed his mind when Olson and UA assistant coaches Ricky Byrdsong and Ken Burmeister sat in his living room in Wichita and then flew him to Tucson for a recruiting visit that included, of all people, Reggie Miller.

It was something of a tough sell; Arizona was coming off a 4-24 season, and Olson recruited Smith three weeks after accepting the job to remodel UA basketball.

Smith writes that when, on campus, he got his first look at the 1983-84 Wildcats, "I thought we would get our tails kicked."

Instead, Smith and fellow first-year players Williams and Kerr set into motion a run of 25 consecutive NCAA tournaments and four Final Fours.

The hook to Smith's book isn't basketball. It's life.

He grew up uncomfortably with a father he describes as physically and mentally abusive, a man who, when Smith elected to play at Dodge City CC rather than accept a scholarship to a four-year school, "tossed the papers to the floor and walked out."

Smith spent some of his upbringing in a gang, struggling both with Wichita's racial tension and his lack of a father figure. His break came when he was absorbed by a basketball-rich environment that produced future NBA and college standouts Aubrey Sherrod, Darnell Valentine, Greg Dreiling and Antoine Carr.

"Bad company corrupts good character," Smith writes. "I can tell you first hand that statement holds much truth."

Smith found his bliss in Tucson, sharing the "Pete 'n' Eddie" billing referred to so often through the years by Olson. Smith started all 59 games he played as a Wildcat, averaging 16.1 points as a senior, which ultimately got him tryouts with the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks, and, subsequently, a two-year pro career in Brazil.

After basketball, he painted houses in Wichita and, after earning his UA degree in 1987, spent a year coaching at Flowing Wells High School and teaching at Walter Douglas Elementary School. He has lived in Georgia with his wife, Felisa, since.

Smith's book, available at Amazon.com, isn't rich in detail; it is a brief 71 pages. Nor is it an ode to Eddie Smith. He remains as modest now as he did in his UA days, when he often stepped back to let Williams and Kerr be team spokesmen.

It's simply a story of a Kansas kid who became a man along the way.

"I didn't have a plan of any kind when I left Arizona," he writes.

But it worked out because he worked at it. He has two adult daughters and has been married for 20 years. In recent years, he has spoken publicly (including a radio show) on marriage and on the process of turning boys into men.

His legacy at Arizona isn't that he scored 500 points in 1985. It's that he got the boys-to-men transition right and continues to show the way it's done.

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Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 12 0 0 1.000
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 10 0 0 1.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 10 2 0 0.833
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 9 3 0 0.750
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 8 4 0 0.667
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 8 2 0 0.800
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
USC 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 6 5 0 0.545
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 6 3 0 0.667
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 5 6 0 0.455

AP Top 25

Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Oregon State at
12/21 52-60
USC at
Boston College
12/21 75-71
San Jose State at
Washington State
12/21 53-82
DePaul at
12/22 68-82
UC-Santa Barbara at
12/22 78-82
Wisconsin at
12/22 68-56
Tulane at
12/22 68-56
Detroit at
Arizona State
12/23 1:00 pm
Stanford at
12/23 5:00 pm
South Dakota State at
12/23 7:00 pm
Arizona at
12/23 8:00 pm
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