Updated Thu, Mar 7, 2013 7:38 pm
During his playing days at Kent State, shooting guard Omni Smith was a Bobcat killer, going 4-1 against Ohio over the course of two seasons.
Now the Chicago native has hung up his high tops to pursue a coaching career, and the school he used to torment has suddenly become his first employer.
“Me and coach always had a relationship outside of basketball and he told me whenever I’d get ready to get into it I’d be a good coach,” Smith said of Bobcat head coach Jim Christian, who formerly coached Smith at Kent State from 2005-07.
If performing well on the basketball court translates to excelling on the sidelines, the young coach has another prosperous career ahead of him. Smith averaged 13.9 points and 3.6 assists per game as a sophomore, leading the Golden Flashes to 21-win season before they were upended in the MAC semifinals.
Perhaps the highlight of Smith’s college career was his memorable performance against legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski and #6 Duke. Smith torched the Blue Devils for 33 points on 14-of-20 shooting, though the Golden Flashes could not come away with the upset victory.
“We had the lead late and we lost, but it was a special night for him,” Christian recalled.
But despite getting along well with Christian, Smith decided to leave KSU after his sophomore season to compete at the next level. He played professionally for teams in Israel, Ukraine, Poland, Holland and Romania. Smith was getting paid to play the sport he loved, but a single phone call from his old coach caused the 28-year-old to rethink his future and take advantage of a special opportunity.
“I was just having doubts about going back overseas because I really wanted to be in the States, so coach…gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, this is your one shot,' and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to take it.’”
So far, Smith appears to have made the right decision. Although he admits there is a huge difference between playing and coaching basketball, those around him have been nothing short of impressed by his hard-working demeanor.
“He definitely knows what it takes to make money playing this game, and he knows what it takes to be a winner,” sophomore point guard Stevie Taylor said following a post-practice workout with the graduate assistant. “When he was with coach Christian they won a lot of games so I just take whatever from him and use it to my own good.”
Surrounding his players with winners certainly seems to be part of Jim Christian’s plan.
“[Smith] has done everything [Ohio’s current players] have done. He’s won a championship in this league like they have. He’s gone on to play overseas and he talks about a lot of different things, so they are very much cut from the same cloth,” the coach said.
Christian believes Smith has unlimited potential as a basketball coach. As for Smith, he believes that while he must pay his dues in order to advance up the coaching ladder, staying grounded and keeping a “refuse to lose” mentality will make his ascent to the top more probable.
“You got to be able to humble yourself and really take yourself where you think you are and bring it down a couple notches,” Smith said, “because the moment you start thinking you’re better than people is the moment you fail.
“That’s one thing I just will not do to myself.”