While the high-flying Battle was the ultimate collegiate over-the-rim finisher, Smith was an under-the-rim finisher. Hops? Well, there were more in Smitty’s favorite beverage. Yes, the NCAA banned the dunk in 1967-68, but it wasn’t due to Big Left, who made headlines in the student press for accidentally stuffing in warm-ups once (I wonder who did that?).
Few players were stronger.
Smitty could back you in like Oscar Robertson, use those strong legs, forearms and elbows to ward off would-be defenders, and plant himself in the lane with a defiant “move-me” attitude. A master of the drop step, the ball or head fake, and a sweeping southpaw hook, Smith could not only play, but produce big-time numbers, in a crowd.
Voted Outstanding Player and All-Citrus Classic, Smith tallied a career-high 37 points vs. Pan American and 33 vs. Western Michigan in 1968-69. During his NIU debut and the program’s first D-I game, Smitty posted 16 points and 14 rebounds at Indiana in the 1967-68 opener. Against Michigan and Rudy Tomjanovich, Smith produced 29 points and 16 rebounds seven games later. The next year, he added 33 points and 11 boards vs. Creighton.
“Smitty was physically aggressive,” former NIU teammate, team captain and point guard Nate Mason recalled. “He could hold his own against anybody. He was an old-school rebounder, using two hands.”
A two-time Huskie MVP and one-year captain, Smith made Halls of Fame at Maine West High School in 1984, NIU in 1988, and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association in 2000. As a senior at Maine West, Smith led coach Gaston Freeman’s Warriors to a 22-3 season and the Mid-Suburban League title. He was named All-Mid-Suburban League and All-State in 1964-65. In 1970-71, he played service ball at Fort Lewis.
Added Mason: “Smitty was truly great around the basket. He was a great teammate, and most of all, a great friend.”
• Mike Korcek is a 1970 graduate of NIU and was the school’s head sports information director from 1984 to 2006. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.