As a lock-down defender, Gene Smith was a standout player for the Hoyas from 1980-84, was team captain in ’83 & ’84 and http://www.hoyabasketball.com has him ranked 68th all-time best player at Georgetown.
We recently caught up with Gene to get his take various topics, old & new, regarding Hoya hoops and the Big East conference.
BEH24/7: After all of these years, how does it feel to be an NCAA College Basketball Champion?
Gene: “I often told myself that being a part of an NCAA Championship team would not be the pinnacle or the most important thing that would ever happen to me in life, that it was a precursor for things to come. What it has come to represent is the purest sense of athletic accomplishment as a member of a team that I would ever accomplish. A culmination of sorts.
Something that staying in the moment created. Believing completely in the goals and strategy and team 1st to complete those goals.”
BEH24/7: Explain if you could, how the 1982 Final Four motivated you leading up to 1984?
Gene: “In my opinion, the ‘82 team was better than the ‘84 team. The’82 team was anchored with senior leadership in Floyd, E. Smith, Spriggs and Hancock and the addition of a talented freshman class led by Ewing and including Anthony Jones, Bill Martin and Ralph Dalton. Dalton got injured along with me in preseason. Fred Brown had come into his own as a sophomore. The floor leader (Fred Brown) did everything: assists, steals, rebounds. We were a deep combination of old and young; a perfect combination. The ’84 team was awesome in that Fred and I as seniors had respect in the locker room and made Big John’s gig easier. Fred’s NYC style and my DC roots made us challenging leaders of our crew. There was no backing down. What we lacked in execution we made up for with a winning ugly mentality. We had Michael Graham as an X factor in the Final Four with the emergence of Reggie in the championship game, and that was title worthy. I was deeply honored by being a big part of that teams on/off court personality by actions, doing the little things, winning every sprint on campus, daring anyone to out run me, making sure the white team (2nd team) was more than capable of winning in practice every day. So our motivation on all Hoyas teams was to make your impact individually and as a team, plus making the time during your era important and memorable.”
BEH24/7: You earned a scholarship to Georgetown where you were a 2-time team captain, played in 2 Final Fours (winning in 1984), drafted by the Pacers, were invited to the 1988 Olympic trials and Dick Vitale named you to his 25th anniversary All-Velcro team. Are you able to appreciate all of those accomplishments?
Gene: “I totally appreciate all those accomplishments especially because the way my college career began with being recruited to be a practice player, then to becoming a part of the player rotation from freshman year on was a testament to anyone who has been given an opportunity to succeed and move up on the depth chart. The opportunity to become part of something bigger than yourself. To add to the above list would be 1984 Olympic Team tryout and NBA Draft Pick 1st player in the 5th round, 94th overall. The Dickie V shout-out was cool, 2-time captain was simply an honor that at first was cool but since it was only a one-vote system during those days, it was very little fanfare. I chose to lead by example and bring a high level of intensity to almost every practice and every game.”
BEH24/7: Who was the most influential person that got you where you are today?
Gene: “My family, starting with my Moms. She was a single parent in Washington D.C., demonstrating a guiding principle that nothing good or great is being given away. If you want something bad enough, ask for it then go and get it. My oldest brother, I was the youngest of four boys, he was a talented small forward. He paved the way for all my basketball exploits. He was a tremendous all-around player. We played together one year, his senior and my freshman at Mckinley Tech H.S. in Washington D.C. The season prior, Tech lost the City Championship. That season playing with Jarvis was impactful on many levels. Most importantly the confidence and quiet direction my brother showed me. I have to mention the steadfast supporters who believed in a defensive 1st minded guard. There was the elementary school coach Mr. Mebane. His zone press defense was essentially a 1-4 w/me chasing the ball until the ball crossed half court. There was a D.C. Coach, Ed Meyers, lobbying for me to be an alternate on a Jr. High School All-star game and get this, the same Coach was on the Hoyas Staff for that ‘81-‘82 season NCAA Runner-up team. Finally, Big John who was recruiting one of the top players on our team who was in H.S. that year (Bill Martin who was a junior and yes he decided to matriculate to Georgetown as part of that monster freshman class if 1981 w/Ewing, Jones and Dalton so I won’t take too much credit for that) and stumbled on a blue-collar guard who wanted to do all the hard stuff on the court, all the little things, talk on defense, dive for loose balls and this kid wanted to win with effort.”
BEH24/7: Who were the top 5 guys you had to guard in your Big East days?
Gene: “In no particular order:Fred Brown-GUEddie Moss-SUPearl-SUMark Jackson-SJUStewart Granger-VUHonorable MentionMichael Adams and John Bagley-BCFreshman year playing against Granger, Bagley and Moss was student/teacher and learning how to be effective against seasoned veteran PG’s that were unflappable. I was able to build confidence in particular with a good game against Nova and Granger that year. Playing against Pearl and Mark early in their career when both were freshmen and I was a senior was incredible. Pearl was, well…Pearl, and my plan was always to challenge – not worry about being crossed over because recovery from behind was always available, so never giving up on the play and I would give him the jumper before letting him get into the lane. In the memorable Big East championship game he was hitting the jumper, so picking my spots and getting possessions was the game plan. Mark was splitting time with senior Bob Kelly. I remember his body just being deceivingly big and wingspan was nuts. He was not as flashy, yet he could back you down 94 feet. Adams was a jitter bug with a shot put of a jumper. One of the most memorable charges I ever took was against M.A @ Cap Centre. I chased him down…got in front of him and guessed the direction he was going and he barreled over me…��. Playing against Fred everyday was so enriching we came in as freshmen together there was NYC/DC tension in the atmosphere. Fred was one of the most competitive and intelligent players I have balled against (he could see the play develop 2 plays ahead). Funny story; the summer before our freshman year we are on our way to a Summer Tourney and I am studying the Hoyas playbook, and Fred quizzically asked “what you doing my man”. Me: “just going over playbook”. Fred: “No need for you to do that, you won’t be playing that much”. He somehow knew like Coach did…stoke the fire and don’t worry, #22 was going to show up. Fred and I started together the last 8 games of the season freshman year when we went to a small ball lineup. I have to mention Sleepy because the attention he showed me in the summer workouts were huge in my maturation. The 2-years we played together, I worked in the gym freshman and sophomore years and Floyd just started showing up to my workouts or just extending his. The 1981 Playboy All-American, Hoyas Legend in the making and we are balling to the death, no mercy, no fouls, full-court one-on-one, blood, sweat and tears. I will never forget his generosity and also the ultimate compliment. He knew I did not care about anything other than playing that hard-nose D on him.”
BEH24/7: Do you keep in contact with any former teammates or guys you competed against?
Gene: “I enjoy staying connected not only to the players I played with, but those who came before me and those who played after me. Hoping to plan a Hoyas event in 2016 and Social Media helps tremendously. I stay connected to the program by attending games every season (Duke and Syracuse 2015). I’m looking forward to a Big East reunion lunch one day to catch-up. On a side-note it is great to see Chris Mullins back @ St. John’s as Head Coach.”
BEH24/7: Do you have a favorite John Thompson story you can share?
Gene: “My favorite Big John story is the day after I was drafted we sat down and talked and the conversation was brief he congratulated me on getting drafted (1st player in the 5th round, 96th overall by Indiana Pacers). He remarked straight faced “now go ahead out there and get cut and enjoy the experience”. I was not the least bit perturbed and he knew that, because no matter what I was going to die trying to make it. I heard from players who were on that team (Hoyas) the next year. He mentioned in pre-season practice you watch, Gene is going to make that team. I was the last player cut, right before opening night. He knew by telling me to go get cut, that was more motivation.”
BEH24/7: What are your thoughts on the health battle that Pearl Washington recently fought?
Gene: “My heart goes out to him and his family, I have my #PrayersforPearl T-shirt. One of the more historic battles was in that Big East Final. (It) was an awesome game. I still don’t know why he didn’t get the ball for the last shot in regulation. Oh, I remember now…I was draped all over him.” (lol)
BEH24/7: What type of interaction did you have with Big East Commish Dave Gavitt during your playing days?
Gene: “Not very much. Gavitt and Big John appeared to have a solid relationship. I saw him @ pre-season stuff and during the tourney. He was the architect of the Big East. He was revered by all of us. Big John spoke very highly of him.”
BEH24/7: Between basketball and business which do you feel you’ve had to work harder at?
Gene: “Both had its challenges, corporate business is difficult for me because the best man doesn’t always win. There is the subjective that may enter into the equation and often times that can work in your favor. The thing about athletics for me that worked was, I certainly was not the most talented but hard work and dedication allowed me to be able to compete. So my framework was built for the struggle, and that was honed at Georgetown.”
BEH24/7: How much longer does Patrick Ewing have to wait before he’ll become a head coach?
Gene: “This is the $100million question. It is offensive to me that he does not have a job. Of course I am biased and I have watched his development as a communicator and administrator and I can only surmise that his time has not come or (it has) passed him by. There is a part of me that would love to see him Coach College if that was something he was interested in. It is nice to see Patrick Jr. on the Hoyas bench.”
Our thanks to Gene for taking the time to provide these insights. You can follow him @gsmit8 on Twitter