Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman continued to pull the right strings with another good move to his coaching staff this week. Musselman hired former Indiana legend and former NBA head coach Keith Smart.
Smart hit one of the most iconic shots in NCAA Tournament history when his 18-foot base line jumper with four seconds left against Syracuse sealed the 1987 NCAA Championship for the Hoosiers. Smart, a junior guard for Indiana totaled 21 points for the game and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Smart’s pro career took him though a tour of the CBA where he played for Musselman with the Rapid City Thrillers and Florida Beachdogs as well as a stint overseas. Smart later landed on Musselman’s Golden State Warriors staff for the 2000-03 season. The experience aided Smart, who landed his first professional head coaching job with the Fort Wayne Fury in 1997, as he became an NBA head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. In addition to his assistant job with Musselman at Golden State, Smart has also served as an assistant with Cleveland, Sacramento, Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks.
“His playing experience includes hitting one of the most clutch shots in the history of college basketball and playing at the highest level professionally,” Musselman said in a release this week. “Keith is someone who I coached and thought so much of his knowledge of the game I hired him at Golden State.
“We are getting an incredible basketball coach. He knows how to develop talent and is an excellent ‘X and O’ coach. Our players are going to love Coach Smart.”
Smart has never coached at the collegiate level and his last NBA job came in New York during the 2018-19 season.
“I am excited to be reunited with Coach Musselman, a person I’ve known for over 30 years and to continue my growth as a basketball coach,” Smart said this week. “I cannot think of a better place than with Coach Musselman and the University of Arkansas.
Smart, who coached 22 professional seasons including 19 in the NBA, is filling a spot on Musselman’s staff left by David Patrick, who left for a spot on Porter Moser’s new staff at Oklahoma.
Musselman also had to hire Gus Argenal , a Cal State-Fullerton assistant, last week to replace former NBA player Corey Williams, who took a job on the Texas Tech staff. Argenal, who was the associate head coach for the Titans, had also served in same role on Musselman’s Nevada staff.
Losing two coaches from a staff that is coming off the school’s best run in 25 years could be devastating for some but not Musselman. Not when you have a rolodex (or maybe cellphone now) of coach’s who you have not only worked with but have worked with and established a bond over several years.
The Smart hire is a good one for a few reasons. First, he and Musselman have a relationship that dates back to when Smart played for him. He has that unique experience of knowing how Musselman relates to his players because he was one, and he has served on his staff so he knows what Musselman expects from his coaches. Secondly, and maybe most importantly, Smart has been an NBA head coach. For us in the older set, who wish the NBA was more like it was in the 1990s, that may not mean as much but for a teenager enamored with today’s NBA stars and set on playing in The League, it means a lot. The stories and guidance Smart offers to young Razorbacks is immense. Musselman probably already had his team’s attention with his NBA coaching experience, but Smart is only a few years removed from coaching the Knicks.
He was, just a few years ago, where several Hogs want to be. It’s a no-brainer that they’d listen to him. Not only that, but the Arkansas players check YouTube and see Smart’s jumper against the Orange, they will only admire him more.
Smart fits in with Musselman’s NBA culture that he has brought to The Hill referring to preseason practice as ‘training camp’ and piping in the iconic NBA organ music during games to make game day a little more like the NBA.
The approach has worked for Musselman, as he owns a 45-17 record at Arkansas in two years and is coming off an Elite 8 NCAA Tournament run.
Arkansas will look for another deep run without some of this year’s key cogs including freshman Moses Moody, who declared for the NBA Draft, and starters Jalen Tate and Justin Smith. Musselman did an admirable job turning the transfer portal (Another skill that his years in the NBA have helped him hone) and has landed more talented players which should keep the Hogs’ momentum going. With the addition of Argenal and Smart, Musselman fills two coaching voids with familiar faces and now Argenal is the only coach on staff that doesn’t have some NBA experience. Assistant Clay Moser, who began Musselman’s Arkansas tenure with him, also worked with Musselman in the CBA and NBA.
“By becoming a Razorback, my basketball life is somewhat coming full circle as [former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson] recruited me,” Smart said. “In addition to playing for and working with Coach Musselman and I have kept in close contact with him over the years, sharing ideas and strategies. I know what he is teaching, and I know his expectations.”
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photo credit found here.