New Sacramento Kings head coach Keith Smart leads his first practice on Saturday.
SACRAMENTO, CA - Before becoming the Kings new head coach, Keith Smart was never the pampered star athlete while growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisana.
"I got cut from the 11th grade team that won the state championship that year," said Smart. "And then the next year I broke my wrist in the 3rd game into my senior season and that was it for high school."
That meant no scholarship offers or college recruiters for Smart, who ended up at a junior college in Kansas.
"So my best friend went off to school at Garden State Community college and I went to school with him." said Smart. "And they had an open tryout and I tried out for the team and that's how it happened"
Smart played well enough to earn the conference player of the year, catching the eye of Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. In 1987, he made history by hitting the game winning shot in the NCAA Finals against Syracuse.
"We ran our normal motion offense and looked for our guy Steve Alford, and our next option was Darrell Thomas inside and he didn't have the shot and he passed it back to me," remembered Smart. "I made a play to the baseline and took a shot. I jumped up and shot up and the balls goes in and the rest is history."
As a professional basketball player Smart became a journeyman playing overseas and in the CBA. Coach Knight always wanted him to return to Indiana to become an assistant but he eventually became the head coach of the Fort Wayne Fury.
"I talk to him (Knight) about once a month, because he really impacted my life to make sure I got into coaching," Smart said. "I learned how to organize a practice, I learned how to win and how to have a team that knows how to win."
Smart soon became an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, eventually joining the Golden State Warriors under Don Nelson in 2003.
"I spent five and half years with him (Nelson), and we still talk to this day. We talk because he wants me to do well not matter what I am doing," Smart told News10.
Under the guidance of Nelson, Smart was allowed to run practices and even coach games, eventually becoming the hand-picked successor to take over the Warriors.
"One game we played Philly at home and he said you are going to coach this game tonight," remembered Smart. "We get down by 20 points and I said coach any suggestions, and he said boy this is all you figure it out. I figured it out and we won the game, but that influence to give me power to go out and coach was just huge."
Last season, Smart led Golden State to 36 wins. However, the new owners of the team decided to hire Mark Jackson as their new head coach and this summer the Kings grabbed Smart as an assistant.
Last Thursday, when the team fired Paul Westphal, Smart was named the new head coach of the Kings. In his debut with the franchise he helped guide the team from a 21-point deficit to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 103-100.
Smart believes the Kings have the talent to become a great team, but also believes it will take time to mold the talent into a playoff contender.
"We have to prove we are going to win first, then we talk about other things, we are not good enough to say we are that type of team," said a passionate Smart. "You ask players and they will say we have as much talent as everyone, but it is not experienced talent. Teams don't go from being young to the playoffs. They need to go from being young to winning."
Written by Ryan Yamamoto, RYamamoto@News10.net