Looking at new Arkansas assistant Keith Smart’s resume, it’s not hard to see the similarities to Eric Musselman’s own path to Arkansas. After graduating from Indiana, getting drafted and playing professionally in the U.S. and overseas for almost a decade, Smart worked his way up through the CBA to the NBA where he became a three-time head coach.
After a regime change at the Knicks organization left him out of a job, Smart had to decide what to do next. He opted to take some time off, hoping to catch more of his son Jared, a wide receiver, play for the University of Hawaii. With most travel shut down due to COVID-19, the former NBA coach was left with more free time than he expected.
“During that time frame I started watching a lot of college basketball,” Smart said. “So I just looked at college coaches and what they were doing and how they were playing and of course I’m following Eric and other coaching friends that I have, and that started to get me moving in that direction.”
Along with watching more college ball, Smart also entered discussions with his alma mater about getting into the collegiate game. The process didn’t result in a job with the Hoosiers but it did narrow his focus on the next phase of his career.
“It was an excellent experience,” Smart said. “Talking with the AD and being able to share my thoughts and ideas about coaching, my coaching, and then him sharing what he thought would be necessary, as well.”
As he has throughout his career since meeting Musselman, Smart kept in touch with the head hog as he took the reins at Arkansas, watching him seamlessly transition from the NBA to primetime collegiate hoops.
The two coaches kept up a dialogue while Smart explored his options with Indiana, which naturally kept him top of mind for Musselman when David Patrick departed for Oklahoma.
“He reached out to me,” Smart shared. “He said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ I didn’t hesitate when he asked that question. I said, ‘If I’m going to look at college, what better place and better person to be around to grow into it?’
“I don’t look at it as going from way up here to coming down here. I just say we’re all in the coaching profession and that’s what we’re doing. We’re learning how to coach.”
Despite having coached stars and having put his own stamp on professional teams over the course of his 22-year long career, Smart displayed not one iota of resistance to taking the passenger’s seat on the Muss Bus.
“Take my ego away,” Smart said. “If you have any ego, you’re going to have a problem with it because you’re going to try to think that you know more. But I come in with an open canvas of growth.”
Recruiting high school athletes is one area Smart will certainly need some help in to hit the ground running, but he’s already putting together his own database of players to know and evaluate. He’s had to get his Twitter account started from scratch as well, but he’s already racking up followers.
“What I do know from my coaching standpoint, I know the game of basketball and all those things you need to do in relationship building. And then what I don’t know, I’m in a great environment to learn from him and grow from his staff as well.”