The fifth in a series profiling 2015 inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame
FAYETTEVILLE -- Christy Smith decided as a first-grader at Otterbein (Ind.) Elementary School she wanted to be a basketball player.
It was the fall of 1982 and the school held an assembly where students could be a basketball player or a cheerleader.
Christy Smith glance
HOMETOWN Oxford, Ind.
AGE 39 (born Aug. 14, 1975).
POSITION Assistant women’s basketball coach at Arkansas
COLLEGE Graduated from Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 1998 and a master’s degree in biomechanics in 2001.
AT ARKANSAS Four-year starter at point guard from 1995-1998. Four-time honorable mention All-American, first-team All-SEC in 1998, second-team All-SEC in 1996 and 1997, SEC Freshman of the Year in 1995.
FAMILY Husband: Tommy Cook. Children: Daughter Dayton (12) and sons Tyson (10) and Crew (8).
NOTEWORTHY Led Arkansas to the 1998 Final Four. … UA Sports Hall of Honor inductee in 2005. … The Razorbacks were 84-41 overall in her four seasons with two NCAA Tournament appearances and a WNIT appearance. … Arkansas’ eighth all-time leading scorer with 1,459 career points, ranks fourth on career assists with 507 and third in steals with 239. … Played two seasons in the WNBA with the Charlotte Sting after being a first-round draft pick, No. 17 overall, in 1998.
"All the boys chose to play basketball and all the girls chose to be a cheerleader, except for me," Smith said. "I said, 'I'm not cheerleading. I'm playing basketball.'
"I think I was just trying to be rebellious."
What might have started as a 7-year-old girl trying to test the boundaries of authority turned into a lifelong passion for Smith.
"I played with the boys and I remember hitting a layup, and all the older kids watching just started going nuts because a girl scored a basket," she said. "I thought that was the coolest thing. I fell in love with basketball right there."
Smith scored a lot more baskets and added plenty of assists and steals as a point guard who starred at Oxford (Ind.) Benton Central High School and Arkansas, then played two seasons in the WNBA.
Smith's career highlight came during her senior season when she led the Lady Razorbacks -- as they used to be known -- into the Final Four of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
"Christy just willed our team to the Final Four," said Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair, who was Arkansas' coach from 1994-2003. "She had the innate ability to make everybody around her better."
Smith's role as a catalyst to raise Arkansas women's basketball to national prominence has earned her a spot in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. She'll be inducted during a banquet Feb. 27 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
"When I found out I'd been selected for induction, I didn't know what to say," said Smith, in her first season as an Arkansas assistant coach. "I was completely speechless. I know that's corny to say, but I really was. I was not expecting this at all.
"I'm just very honored and humbled and excited."
Smith was the SEC's freshman of the year, a three-time All-SEC pick and a four-time honorable mention All-American. She started 110 of 111 games at Arkansas and had career averages of 13.1 points, 4.6 assists and 2.2 assists.
As a junior Smith missed a practice because of illness, and Blair had a rule that a player had to practice to start.
"I still played off the bench," Smith said. "They gave me an IV and I got out there and had a somewhat decent game."
Smith signed with Arkansas over her other top choices -- Notre Dame, Illinois, Missouri State and Drake -- because she wanted to play in the SEC and could start as a freshman.
"What I remember most about playing for Arkansas is how well all the players got along," she said. "Our team chemistry was just really good throughout my four years here.
"We had a lot of fun on and off the basketball court, and going to the Final Four was a dream come true."
Smith ranks eighth on Arkansas' all-time scoring list (1,459 points), fourth in assists (507) and third in steals (239). She was a career 83.7 percent free-throw shooter and led the nation at 89.9 percent as a freshman.
"I didn't know about it until Christy's sophomore year, but every time an official handed her the ball -- for an inbounds play or to shoot a free throw -- she said, 'Thank you,' " Blair said. "Finally one time an official came up to me during a game and said, 'Do you teach all your players to say thank you?'
"That's just the type person Christy is. She had so much respect from everybody in the game. Officials loved her, coaches and players on the other teams loved her, her teammates and coaches loved her, and all the fans loved her.
"Christy was like John Stockton and Mary Tyler Moore rolled into one."
Smith was a first-round draft pick by the Charlotte Sting and might have enjoyed a long WNBA career if not for knee, wrist, hand and ankle injuries.
Coaching followed, first at the high school level and then in college. She was an assistant at Valparaiso and Purdue before Arkansas Coach Jimmy Dykes offered her a chance to return to Fayetteville.
"I've always wanted to be back at the U of A," Smith said. "It's a special place."
Dykes said Smith has been a huge asset.
"She had a lot of toughness, determination and tenacity as a player, and she brings that to our coaching staff as well," Dykes said. "She gives me a lot of good input, a lot of good thoughts.
"I trust what she's teaching my players, and they trust her. We're fortunate to have her."
Smith said she used to think she didn't want to coach because it would be frustrating.
"I didn't think I could take not being able to play," Smith said. "But then whenever I watched the NCAA Tournament, March Madness would get to me.
"I just needed to get back in the game, and coaching was my way to do that."
Sports on 02/21/2015
Print Headline: Smith gracious, tenacious guard