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Here is highlights from that game and a bio I compiled

Posted on: April 7, 2021 at 08:33:37 CT
FIJItiger MU
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18.27 yrs
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Willie Smith

Letterman - 1975, 1976

A 6'2 166 pound guard from Las Vegas, “Mister Magic” was a left handed offensive dynamo with seemingly unlimited range that enjoyed unquestionably the finest two year career of any Tiger. Mr. Magic began his college career avging 12.6 ppg and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman and 13.5 ppg and 6.0 rebounds as a sophomore at Seminole JC in Oklahoma, giving no real indication as to his offensive prowess. He was recruited to MU as a backup and primarily a defensive specialist to shooting guard Steve Dangos, who had avged over 14 ppg the year before for MU. When Willie began practice under Norm, Stewart saw a flaw in Willie's shot, namely his elbow was too far out from his body when he shot. Norm got Willie to change his form, getting his hand and elbow underneath the ball when he shot. That subtle adjustment would make a drastic difference.

Smith would start his Tiger career as a junior, joining a club coming off a sub .500 finish. Norm Stewart gave the following scouting report on Smith prior to his varsity debut, “He won't always come through with super scoring nights, but he can handle the fast break and play both ends of the floor equally well.” MU would jump out to a 6-1 record but lost in the first round of the conference holiday tournament (marking the first time in 4 years they didn't win the title). They would rebound against #11 OU, a school who failed to offer the in-state Smith a recruiting visit. Smith had his first signature game as a Tiger, scoring 37 points in a double overtime MU win. Steve Dango's quit the team after the game and Smith became the unquestioned focal point of the offense from then forward. After scoring 30 against OSU he would score 34 in an 84-72 victory over ku that left MU at 7-3 in conference and one game off the pace for the lead. The NCAA tournament had expanded to 32 teams that season, and for the first time ever non-conference champs were eligible for inclusion. But despite finishing their first undefeated home season since 1930 MU lost their last conference game of the year to CU and finished 3rd at 9-5. They were instead invited to the short lived National Collegiate Commissioners Invitational Tournament to face Purdue. Smith would score 30, but foul out late in the game as MU fell 87-74 to end the season at 18-9. It was MU's highest scoring team to date, avging 83.5 ppg. Smith would avg 22.4 ppg (the highest avg in 14 years at MU and the 8th highest scoring season in program history) and 5.4 rebounds, as well as being named first team All Big 8 and the first Tiger ever to be named the Big 8's Conference Newcomer of the Year. The four 30 point games on the season ties the most 30 point performances for a junior in MU history.

Smith was one of only two seniors on the 1975-76 Tiger team. In the season's second game against Toledo, Smith would score 11 points in overtime and 30 for the game in an 88-85 MU victory. MU would defeat Hawaii 99-91 where for the final 27 seconds they played with only 4 players, the rest of the team having fouled out (38 fouls were called on MU). MU would open at 7-2 and then advance to the conference holiday tournament final to face ku, the first matchup for a title between the rivals in 25 years. Smith would earn tourney MVP honors after sealing the championship with a 79-69 victory. MU would open conference play against the same jayhawk team, and deliver a 99-69 blowout that was the 4th worst loss in ku history at that point and the highest scoring MU output ever for a conference game. He would have games of 32 against CU, 31 against NU, 32 in a win over ISU and in doing so became the fastest Tiger to reach 1,000 career points. In a low scoring affair against ku he would soar over a jumble of arms to tip in the game winner 61-60 that positioned MU in the driver's seat for the conference title. A loss to OU forced a tie with KSU whom had beaten MU earlier in the year in Columbia (Smith's only home loss of his Tiger career), and the Tigers would be forced to travel to Manhattan for the deciding game (a place they hadn't won in over a decade). Smith would jump out of the gate with 22 first half points but the Tigers only maintained a 3 point lead at halftime. So he continued to dominate by scoring a then career-high 38 points, two of them after throwing an inbounds pass off a Wildcat's back, fielding the carom and laying it in during an 81-72 MU victory. He would score 23 as MU destroyed CU 95-60 in the finale to clinch MU's first outright conference title in 46 years at 12-2. The Tigers were winners of both the conference tournament and the regular season and held a top 10 national ranking, earning their first ever NCAA bid and marking only their second appearance in the NCAA tournament. After the best season in program history to that point and being named the District Coach of the Year for the second straight time, Norm Stewart was rewarded with a $1,000 a year raise…bumping his annual salary to $23,000.

They would open against Washington in a game to be played in Allen Field Dump in Lawrence. Against future NBA 7' James Edwards MU would fall behind by 11, but MU would storm back thanks to 21 points, 7 assists, and 6 steals by Smith to secure the program's first non-consolation tourney victory ever 69-67. MU would face Texas Tech in the second round, and Smith would again answer with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in an 86-75 Tiger win. That set up a matchup with Michigan for the right to play in the final four. The fast-breaking Wolverines roared off to a 10-point lead in the opening four minutes and raised it to 18 with 4:17 remaining. It was all going so easily that during timeouts star guard Rickey Green stated afterwards couldn't help but think ahead to Philadelphia and the final four. At half-time, Orr told his Michigan team to play as if the score were 0-0 instead of 50-37. The Tigers were quick to reverse Orr's warning however thanks to a one man Mr. Magic show. Smith would score 29 of the Tiger's 51 second-half points. Smith started firing 17 seconds after the second half began—15, 20 and 25 footers—and within eight minutes the score was 65-65. The score was still deadlocked at 71 when Smith climaxed his performance by hitting two jump shots and a free throw to put the Tigers ahead by five with 7:54 to go. The final four was within reach. Missouri was unfortunately unable to hold on because it blew 8 of its last 11 foul shots and Kim Anderson was called for a technical foul for attempting to dunk after being undercut on a breakaway layup and grabbing the rim for protection. MU would fall 95-88 as Smith recorded 43 points in the highest scoring postseason game ever by a Tiger. Despite the Tigers not winning the region, 199 of the 200 votes for the Region's Most Outstanding Player went to Smith in defeat. MU would finish at 26-5 for the 9th best winning % in the nation.

Smith would avg 25.3 ppg on the year, the highest scoring avg in MU history for a season. His 783 points are also the most ever scored in a Tiger's senior year, with 8 different 30 point games also tying for a single season Tiger record. The 300 FG's made is also an all time record accomplished in an era with no 3 point line or shot clock, so there is no telling how many more additional points that would have equated to in today's game. But Smith did more than score for the Tigers. He also avged 5.7 rebounds a game from his guard position, and set a new program assist record with 138 that still ranks 8th all time. He was again named First Team All Big 8, but this season also earned All American recognition as well as being the first Tiger to be named the Big 8 Conference Player of the Year.

In 2 seasons Smith would score 1,387 points, making him the programs second all time leading scorer at the point and finishing only 34 points away from being the all time leader. He currently ranks 16th, and if you count the points scored in JUCO his college point total of 2,184 would have him finish tied for 2nd on our all time list. He ranks in the top 10 all time in FT %, and his rebounding career avg of 5.5 is superb for a 6'2 guard. His MU career scoring avg of 23.9 ppg is a full 4 ppg greater than any other player in MU history. He is one of 6 Tigers to have their number retired. Smith was drafted with the 18th pick of the NBA draft by Chicago, but over the next 4 seasons played very sparingly for four different teams without ever really catching on in the NBA. He currently resides in Columbia where he owns Magic Services Inc (a cleaning service) and Mama Bessie's Dry Cleaning.
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     Not by me. That Michigan game was extraordinary - samclemens MU - 4/7 09:10:00
          That's Before my time. Was that like the OK game in 2002?nm - Spartus MWSC - 4/7 09:35:55
     Not at all by older Tiger fans. - hoosierdaddy MU - 4/7 09:00:40
     RE: Often overlooked and not appreciated for what he did - CapeKevin MU - 4/7 08:31:48
          Here is highlights from that game and a bio I compiled - FIJItiger MU - 4/7 08:33:37
               What a fantastic summary - Ace MU - 4/7 09:26:31
     RE: Often overlooked and not appreciated for what he did - oldsoldier MU - 4/7 08:31:11

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