Hogs hire former NBA HC Keith Smart to fill vacant assistant coach position

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman has once again turned to a familiar face to fill a vacancy on his Razorbacks staff as former NBA head coach and journeyman assistant Keith Smart has been hired as an assistant coach.

Smart — interim head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers for 40 games at the back end of 2002-03, interim head coach with the Golden State Warriors for a season in ’10-11, and head coach with the Sacramento Kings for most of ’11-12 and all of ’12-13 — had worked on Musselman’s staff in the NBA when Smart was an assistant coach at Golden State in Musselman’s second and final season as head coach of the Warriors in ’03-04. Smart also played for Musselman when they were with the Rapid City Thrillers / Florida Beachdogs of the CBA in the mid-1990s.

Following the recent departures of assistant coach Corey Williams (now at Texas Tech) and associate head coach David Patrick (now at Oklahoma), Musselman turned to coaches who have previously worked for him by bringing in Smart and Gus Argenal (hired last week from Cal State Fullerton; assistant for Musselman in his final two seasons at Nevada) as those two join assistant coach Clay Moser to complete Musselman’s bench staff for the upcoming ’21-22 season. 

“What an incredible opportunity for our players to be mentored and coached by coach Smart,” Musselman said via a media release. “His coaching experience is unmatched, being a three-time NBA head coach. His playing experience includes him hitting one of the most clutch shots in the history of college basketball and playing at the highest level professionally. Keith is someone I coached and thought so much of his knowledge of the game I hired him at Golden State. We are getting an incredible coach. He knows how to develop talent and is an excellent ‘X and O’ coach. Our players are going to love Coach Smart.

“I am really excited about the experience and chemistry this staff, with coaches Smart, (Gus) Argenal and (Clay) Moser, will bring.”

Smart talked about his new opportunity in Fayetteville.

“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. “I cannot think of a better place than with Coach Musselman and at the University of Arkansas. By becoming a Razorback, my basketball life is somewhat coming full circle as Coach (Nolan) Richardson recruited me.

“In addition to playing for and working with Coach Muss, I have kept in close contact with him over the years, sharing ideas and strategies,” Smart said. “I know what he is teaching, and I know his expectations. I am thrilled to join the Arkansas family, to develop our players and to build on the solid foundation that has been laid here.”

Before hiring Smart, Musselman considered former NBA player, former NBA Coach of the Year (’06-07), and former NBA and college assistant coach Sam Mitchell; former Sacramento Kings assistant coach Larry Lewis; and current Hogs director of student-athlete development Earl Boykins, who’s held that role at Arkansas for the past two seasons. Musselman also reached out to longtime NBA head coach and assistant coach David Fizdale about the position at Arkansas in a “swing for the fences on a long shot” inquiry given that Fizdale very much remains on NBA general managers’ hiring radars less than two years removed from being the head coach of the New York Knicks.

Smart, 56, has been out of coaching for the better part of two seasons and most recently was an assistant coach with the New York Knicks (’18-19 and through the first week of December 2019 during the ’19-20 season). Prior to that, he was an assistant coach for two seasons each with the Memphis Grizzlies (’16-17 and ’17-18) and Miami Heat (’14-15 and ’15-16). At each of the three organizations that he spent time as head coach, Smart was first an assistant coach (from 2000-2002 at Cleveland; from 2003-2010 at Golden State; and the first part of the ’11-12 season at Sacramento).

In what was his longest tenure coaching with one team in professional sports, Smart spent a total of 8 seasons at Golden State (7 as an assistant and 1 as head coach). Smart began his professional coaching career as head coach of the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA for three seasons (1997-2000).

As a player, Smart is famously known for hitting the game-winning shot to give Indiana a 74-73 win over Syracuse in the 1987 NCAA national title game as he
was named the 1987 NCAA tournament Final Four Most Outstanding Player. That national championship marked the third and final national title for legendary and controversial former Indiana head coach Bobby Knight. 

Smart played two seasons at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and was recruited by Arkansas before playing his final two seasons at Indiana, then he was selected 41st overall in the second round of the 1988 NBA Draft by Golden State. He ended up signing with the San Antonio Spurs but played only two games during the ’88-89 season which would signal the end of his NBA career.

But Smart would play professionally at various stops domestically and internationally over the next 8 years with his last stop playing a season for the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA in ’96-97, which preceded him retiring and taking over as head coach of the Fury a year later.