Sept. 25, 2008
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There are few sports that emphasize measurements more than basketball. At every turn is a number — shooting percentage, scoring average, height, won-loss record…and the list goes on and on.
University of Iowa point guard Kristi Smith is somewhat of an enigma. On one hand, her statistics define her as one of the best in the nation at her position. On the other hand, observers have a difficult time believing she stands a mere 5-foot-6 while watching her perform on the court. Some could argue that she plays at least a foot taller than her program-listed height, but according to her coach, there is no way to gauge Smith’s determination and spirit.
“People are always amazed after they watch Kristi play and then see her walk to the press room after a game,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “It’s amazing what she does on the floor. She’s small in size, but you can’t measure the size of somebody’s heart.”
Still, numbers reinforce Smith’s successes. During a 91-game career, she has averaged 11.4 points while shooting better than 83 percent from the free throw line and 40 percent from three-point range. Smith has averaged more than 100 assists per season.
“As a point guard I would say that a nice assist is the most rewarding because I’m involving my teammates and making other people feel good,” Smith said.
That mindset has made Smith popular with teammates and coaches. She was selected as one of three UI co-captains for 2008-09. Last season Smith was instrumental in leading the Hawkeyes to a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship with a 13-5 league record. Iowa finished 21-11 overall and advanced to its 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have to keep working hard,” Smith said. “I want to improve where I left off last year. I don’t think about individual awards so much during the season when I’m playing. I want to win and I want to get to the NCAA tournament again and hopefully get a Big Ten tournament championship as well as a conference championship. If everything goes well, the individual awards will come later.”
“We have to keep working hard. I want to improve where I left off last year. I don’t think about individual awards so much during the season when I’m playing. I want to win and I want to get to the NCAA tournament again and hopefully get a Big Ten tournament championship as well as a conference championship. If everything goes well, the individual awards will come later.”
UI senior Kristi Smith
The honors came pouring in for Smith following her junior season when she averaged 13.3 points per game and set career-highs for points (425), field goals (143) and three-point field goals (53). Smith was named first team all-Big Ten by the coaches and second team all-Big Ten by the media. She was also an academic all-Big Ten selection and one of five players to be named WBCA Region 6 All-American, which made her honorable mention All-American as one of the top 52 players in the nation.
“Kristi was one of the top five players in the Big Ten,” Bluder said. “Everyone recognized her value. We were a different team when she was not on the floor.”
Smith, who currently has a streak of 83 consecutive starts, scored in double figured 24 times last season, including 11 games in a row. She is 25th on the all-time Hawkeye scoring chart with 1,033 points — just 18 behind teammate Megan Skouby and 85 ahead of teammate Wendy Ausdemore.
Iowa has won 52 games in the past three seasons and made two trips to the NCAA Tournament — bowing out in the first round to Brigham Young in 2006 (67-62) and to Georgia in 2008 (67-61). The Hawkeyes graduated five players, but the return of seniors Smith, Ausdemore, Skouby, Lindsey Nyenhuis and Nicole VanderPol promises to keep Iowa in running for another exciting season that could extend well into the month of April.
“There definitely is a sense of urgency,” Smith said. “It’s my last season and I want to go out with a bang and help my team be the best it can be.”
Bluder knows that for the Hawkeyes to reach 20-plus victories for the fourth time in the last nine seasons, Smith has to expand her leadership role.
“Kristi is trying to embrace that role of a leader,” Bluder said. “She’s never been a very vocal person. Now she’s a senior and a captain and she’ll mentor to the freshmen.”
“We have five freshmen coming in, so we have to do our best to help them out and make them feel comfortable,” Smith said. “The incoming freshmen are all really talented so we’re pretty confident they’ll help us out. The upperclassmen need to step up and be leaders.”
Smith started 21 games as a freshman, averaging 7.1 points and shooting 47.4 percent from the field. As a sophomore, she was named third team all-Big Ten by both the media and coaches after averaging a career-high 13.4 points per game with 124 assists, 108 made free throws and an 85.8 free throw percentage. Smith was named to the WBCA Classic all-tournament team when she combined to score 30 points with eight assists in victories against Missouri State and Kansas.
So far, the highlight of Smith’s Hawkeye experience was combining basketball and travel on a trip to Greece from May 23 to June 2, 2007.
“Going to Greece was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to have such great teammates and play with great people and I’ve developed a lot of good relationships. The coaches have been really awesome these past three years.”
Smith, a marketing and finance major, might wait awhile before entering the “typical” work force. A strong senior season on the court could mean spending the next few years rubbing shoulders with former Iowa standouts Tangela Smith and Crystal Smith, who are both currently in the WNBA.
“If I have the opportunity to continue playing basketball, then I will look into it,” Smith said. “If not, I wouldn’t be upset just starting a career.”
Like all players, when the final horn sounds on Smith’s career at Iowa, she would love to be remembered by the fans. It seems only fitting after all the moments she provided the black and gold masses to celebrate.
“I would like to be remembered as that spunky, feisty little point guard who loved the game of basketball and enjoyed every minute of it,” Smith said.