Michigan State alum Steve Smith knows all about the highs and lows of the NCAA tournament, from making a game-winning shot to losing in double-OT. His success continued long after his college career, winning an Olympic gold medal for team USA in 2000 and an NBA title with San Antonio in 2003. CHD’s Jon Teitel spoke with Steve Smith, who was in Atlanta where Dove Men + Care and Turner Sports are celebrating National Bracket Day with an interactive, giant bracket where fans can stop by and fill our their bracket onsite. National Bracket Day celebrations will take place with onsite hubs in Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City, please visit dovemencare.com for more information.
In the 1990 NCAA tourney as a #1-seed at Michigan State you had 22 points, 11 rebounds in a four point overtime win over Murray State (Popeye Jones took 36 of the Racers’ 72 shots and finished with 37 points and 11 rebounds). Did you feel extra pressure to not become the first team to ever lose to a #16-seed? People bring that up every spring and I still run into Popeye from time to time. Murray State was a good team but they surprised us because back then we did not have the technology to know a lot about them: we could not Google them to learn everything about them. When you have a 16-seed with a future pro, anything is possible.
You scored 32 points in a 1-PT OT loss to Georgia Tech: do you think Kenny Anderson’s shot at the end of regulation beat the buzzer? Kenny’s foot was on the line and his shot did not beat the buzzer. I live in Atlanta and still work with Anderson’s teammate Dennis Scott, so I get teased all the time!
In the 1991 NCAA tourney you scored a game-high 19 points including an 18-footer at the buzzer in a two-point win over Wisconsin–Green Bay. Could you ever imagine a couple decades later after holding Phoenix star guard Tony Bennett scoreless in the second half that he would lead Virginia into the NCAA tourney as coach of a number one seed? Not at all. I root for Tony: both he and his dad Dick are great coaches whose teams take on their identity. The Cavaliers are very smart and play 7 or 8 deep.
You scored 28 PTS in a one point loss to Utah, where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career, and if you had won that game do you think you could have beaten UNLV (the last team to enter the tourney undefeated until this year’s Wichita State team)? I think so. We played UNLV earlier that season and lost to them, so I would have loved another chance to play them. As you can see I played in a lot of close tourney games: when you are a high seed you get everyone’s best shot.
In March 1997 you scored 25 points in the final six minutes of a six-point loss to Seattle and became the second NBA player to ever make seven three point shots in a single quarter, was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”? For sure. When you get in 1 of those zones you just become a player who can carry your team and help them get right back in the game.
Later that year you gave $2.5 million to your alma mater, which at the time was the largest single donation by a pro athlete to his former school. What will it take for more athletes to follow your exemplary lead and do the same? I actually gave $3.1 million…which is why I am still working! It was a great collaboration with Michigan State and the city, and my scholarship gives kids a great opportunity by providing them a four-year ride for free. The Academic Center helps kids earn their degree a bit quicker and prepares them for life after college.
You won a gold medal for team USA at the 1999 FIBA Americas Championship and again at the 2000 Olympics. What did it mean to you to win a pair of gold medals, and how on earth did your former coach on those teams (SMU’s Larry Brown) not make the NCAA tourney?! It was tough to see Larry miss the tourney: he had a fantastic season. I also thought Georgetown and Green Bay had a good chance to make it. The Olympics only come around every four years, which makes it very special: it was very important for me to represent my country.
In Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals you scored 18 points but the Lakers overcame a 15-point deficit en route to a five point win via the biggest fourth quarter comeback ever in a Game 7. What did you think of the free throw disparity (37 for LA compared to 16 for Portland)? You mean when Shaq fouled me and nobody called it?! Some calls went the Lakers’ way, but I take my hat off to Phil (Jackson), Shaq (O’neal) and Kobe (Bryant).
In the 2003 Finals as a member of the Spurs you beat the Nets in six games to win the title: what did it mean to you to win a title after each of your 10 playoff appearances during the previous 11 years had ended in a loss? That is what you play for. I am glad I finally won a ring: it is 1 of the highlights of my career.
Your Spartans won the Big 10 tourney yesterday and open up against Delaware on Thursday as a #4-seed. How far do you think they will go this year? I want them to keep playing into April.
How have you enjoyed partnering with Dove Men + Care? They have gained a lot of recognition due to their fantastic commercials, and the college coaches have been great sports. The NCAA tourney has always been a big deal, but now it is one of the national events in American culture.