Nearly 22 years after his 16-foot baseline jumper gave Indiana the national title in 1987, Keith Smart ruminates on how how that moment changed his life, and where he's going from here.
How would things have been different if that shot hadn't gone in with five seconds remaining against Syracuse at the Superdome? "Thankfully I don't have to think about that," Smart told me during practice with the Golden State Warriors recently, where he is an assistant coach. "But I don't think things would have changed much. I think I'd be in pretty much the same position I'm in now. But if you ask my kids, that's a different story."
More with Smart on The Shot, playing for Bobby Knight, and his unique role as the only official "defensive coordinator" in the NBA.
So take us back. How has The Shot changed your life?
I always say that the history of the shot is always chasing me to do things the right way. It's an honor, but it always makes me feel that people are looking up to that moment, and I have to make sure that I do all the right things. I still bump into people all the time who want to talk about. I don't mind. I'll talk about it as much as they want.
The thing I remember most about it was that Knight didn't call a time out before the play. Not that that was unusual.
People say, well you guys didn't call a time out. But that was Knight. We knew what to do in different situations; that all came out in practice. As a coach now I see that sometimes when you call a time out and draw up a play, the player only sees what you show him and doesn't take what the defense is giving. That shot came out of the motion offense, and that's an offense where you learn to take what the defense gives you. Playing at Indiana and playing for coach Knight has given me a tremendous base for basketball.
It went to Thomas first.
Yeah, in to Daryl, and he kicked it to me in the corner. I was just thinking 'I hope it goes in.'
Your kids must be old enough now to appreciate it. How often do they see it?
Especially now, because CBS or ESPN Classic or whatever will show it from time to time. When tournament time rolls around it will be on TV, they'll see it, and of course they'll see the short shorts and they'll see that their dad had hair, and all of that stuff. But it's always fun sitting there and watching their reaction when they see it on TV .Andre is my oldest, and Jared is the youngest. They both play basketball.
Now that you're a coach, what do you see that made Bobby Knight unique?
You couldn't tell if we were a losing team or a championship team. Because he coached it the same way. He didn't look at it like we were a 30-4 team, he coached it like we were a 4-30 team. I enjoyed my time there. I still use the drills as far as defensive principles of where you need to be. People always talk about the line drills and suicides and things; people always think that we ran a lot, but we didn't. We didn't practice a long time either. We went from an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes. But it was at a high intensity level. I've been around coaches in different places when you're in the gym for 2½ hours, but there's no focus or intensity with that. With Knight, practices moved from a to b to c, and you were out of there.
Do you still keep in touch? What does he think of your work with the Warriors?
I haven't talked with coach for awhile. I've talked to his son (Pat), but I have not talked to coach. Coach Knight doesn't call you; you call him. If there were ever something I needed, or if I wanted some advice, I'd call him and he'd be right there. He'll do anything for his former players. But while you're playing for him, you don't have a relationship. One big piece of advice he gave me early on was that once you start coaching, you have to fast yourself from playing basketball. Because if you're playing, you think like a basketball player. You only see one or two players removed. But when you're a coach, you have to see the entire picture. So I stopped playing completely when I started coaching. Not a pickup game, nothing. And as I moved through the years, my view of everything started getting much bigger.
What would he do when he got mad?
The big thing was when you got back to the locker room, your bags would be outside. And if he was real mad at you, he'd throw your bag down the hall.
What's the biggest adjustment from college to the NBA? How is the coaching different?
The defensive schemes are a lot different. There's a lot of motion and pick and roll stuff in college, where in the NBA it's a lot of quick hits to your best players right away. So a lot of players don't come into the NBA with that principle. Another thing is that back when I was coming up, you had players who were in college three years or four years or whatever it had been. You develop a toughness for rebounding and getting loose balls with four years of college. Now, players are coming out of college so early that most of their skills are on the offensive side. So you have to work a lot on defense. A senior in college very seldom gets caught on a screen. He gets over it or under it. A freshman, a sophomore, will hit a screen and say ‘Oh, I need help!' So that's what you learn with four years of college; getting to places before you need to be there.
Is defense a lost art?
Yeah. Because every guy wants to have fun. They want to have fun on the break with the wide open dunk. But if you don't have stops on defense that create those situations, you're lost. I was always taught that rebounding is the most important thing. The good teams rebound. If you're not rebounding, you're constantly playing fast, trying to catch up. When the shot goes up, if you don't get the rebound, your defense meant nothing. And you have to get the loose basketballs. So the art of teaching defense is really teaching hard work.
This has been a tough season for you.
Not really, because I'm learning a lot, and the players have bought into what we're trying to do. It's just that to be successful, you have to have the talent. And you have to stay healthy. That's been the big thing.
The Warriors are probably the only team that has two huddles during a time out. Don Nelson talks, and then the players huddle around you to hear about the defense. What's been the reaction to that?
I tell you, I have friends around the league who text me from time to time saying "Man, that is something else, we've never seen that. It takes a coach with an incredible amount of confidence to be able to do that. He'll just come to a game and say ‘You got your plan?' And we go on from there. And I want to be perfect for him. He trusts me so much, that I don't want to let him down. I think it's something that may catch on. Because you see a lot of coaches that work strictly with the defense. But nothing's like this situation right here. It's direct now. If there's a timeout and the players have a question about the defense, right away they come to me. It frees you up. So he's created something that's incredible. None of us had ever thought this way in basketball. It's gone beyond what I thought it could possibly be.
You make all the defensive calls?
Coach has told me if I need to take a player out of the game, I take him out of the game. It's not a problem. So I give the player three strikes. We had a situation a couple of nights ago, Cory missed an assignment. During the time out I told him, Cory, you've got one strike. The veteran guys have bought into it, and we've gone that way. And we haven't made it to three strikes yet. You have to hand it to coach Nelson. I can't think of another NBA coach who would be secure enough with himself to allow something like that.
Do you coach your sons? Who are their favorite players?
I don't coach my kids at all. I'm simply dad. Andre loves Jason Kidd. He gets more excited about making a pass than anything. He'll come home and say dad, I made 12 assists last night. Jared is a big Steve Nash fan. He got an opportunity to meet Kevin Garnett, and really likes him too. I just want them to have fun playing, and whatever happens with their career happens.
What do you tell your team when you're playing Kobe?
Sometimes there's nothing you can do. When he wants to turn it on and go, you can forget what you're trying to do. Those guys are so good, that sometimes you say that they're just bleeping with the game. They'll let you have fun playing with them, but they'll look at the score and say OK, we're up by six, let me turn it up a notch. Those guys, Dwyane Wade, they have the ability to allow their teammates to get involved. The key is to hold every player to his average. Don't allow other guys with a low average to have a great game.
Tell me something about Knight that may surprise people.
One of the first days I was there, I went to the dining hall. We had all of the African American players sitting at one table, all of the white players sitting at another table. Nothing big, but we knew that that wasn't how he looked at things. He told us that he didn't want to see that again. You know you don't think anything of it; right away I gravitated toward Darrell Thomas, Rick Calloway, Dean Garrett, and we were all sitting at one table. We didn't think anything of it. But you started to see that he didn't want it that way ; he wanted us all together. I didn't have the same roommate twice in a row. We rotated. He saw things differently. He and coach Nelson, their thinking is just different. I've had the opportunity to play for one who's the all-time winning college coach, and working for one who will probably be that in the pros. I am really lucky.