Larry Smith: He epitomized Dave Whitney’s Alcorn Braves

Larry Smith, guarded by some guy named Bird here, honed his skills at Alcorn State.
Larry Smith, guarded by some guy named Bird here, honed his skills at Alcorn State.
Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

Off the basketball court, Larry Smith is one of the nicest, most polite, and unassuming guys you would ever want to meet.

On the floor, when he played for the Alcorn State Braves and with three teams in the NBA, Smith took on a different personality, entirely.

Mr. Mean,” was the nickname given to Smith as a freshman at Alcorn State by then-Alcorn sports information director Gus Howard.

Gus said every time he looked at me on the court I never smiled,” Smith says. “He said I always had a mean looking scowl on my face. He said it looked like I was mad all the time.”

Smith’s playing style was intimidating. He never saw a shot he didn’t think he could block or rebound. He never saw a loose ball that he didn’t think belonged to him. He was a rebounding machine.

For four years in the proud Alcorn program, Smith averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per game. He is the first Alcorn State basketball player to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, following his coach, the late Dave Whitney.

It’s an honor, an awesome honor,” Smith said. “There were so many great players at Alcorn before me and there have been many since. To be the first inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame means a lot to me. I hope there will be many more. As for Coach Whitney, I am just sorry he is not here to see it.”

Smith led Alcorn to a 27-0 regular season record his junior season (1978-79). The Braves then defeated Mississippi State 80-78 at Starkville in one of the historic college basketball games in Magnolia State history. Naturally, Smith scored the winning bucket when he collected a loose ball just inside the free throw late and made a last-second basket that Alcorn fans still celebrate all these years later.

For good measure, Smith led Alcorn to two more victories over Mississippi State his senior season when he averaged 20 points and a whopping 15 rebounds per game..

Yes,” Smith answers, when asked if the first victory over State was the highlight of his college career.

I would have to say so, because we always thought we would be competitive with all the Mississippi teams given the opportunity. State was a very good team, but so were we, and that victory opened a lot of doors for us at Alcorn.”

Following his senior season, Smith was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. He was an instant success making the NBA’s All-Rookie team in 1981.

Over 13 NBA seasons, he averaged 9.2 rebounds per game. He was one of the top rebounders of his era, and, although he wasn’t known for his scoring, he did make 53 percent of his field goals over 13 seasons.

In 1985-86, Smith led the entire NBA in offensive rebounds, which is an area of the game on he loved.

A lot of guys don’t go to the offensive glass, but I enjoyed that part of the game,” Smith said. “It’s all about effort and knowing where the ball is likely to come off. I liked rebounding on offense because it gave me more chances to score.”

As a youngster, Smith was the proverbial late bloomer.

Through my whole high school and junior high career, everyone always told me that I was too small to do the job,” Smith said. “That was incentive. One thing I learned over the years was that I would never let anybody outwork me. That was my strong suit. That kept me competitive and that carried me on into the NBA.”

•••

To purchase tickets to the BancorpSouth Induction Weekend festivities, call 601 982-8264 or click here and follow the links.

•••

Read Rick Cleveland’s Mississippi Today column about Gov. William Winter winning The Rube Award for his lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports.

•••

The first four of the series:

Jackie Sherrill.

Wesley Walls.

Sean Brewer.

• Kay James.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *