Spikes and high tops
Ron Smith is at home on both hard court and baseball diamond
Ask Ron Smith to choose between basketball and baseball and you’re likely to get a long pause.
“Um . . . I just can’t choose,” he says. “I really love both sports.”
If you know anything about Coach Smith, it’s easy to understand his dilemma. Smith, a 1979 Furman graduate, has spent his life either playing or coaching both sports. His former teammates have included both Larry Bowa (Philadelphia Phillies) and Larry Bird (Boston Celtics). But for now at least, Smith seems more at home on a baseball diamond than on a basketball court.
Since taking over as head coach of the Furman baseball team in 1994, he has helped transform the Paladins from a Southern Conference cellar-dweller to a team that has in recent years finished among the top third of the conference. In 1997, the Paladin baseball team finished with a 29-23 record, the team’s first winning record since 1976.
Smith’s most recent honor came this winter when he was voted to the Indiana High School Basketball Silver Anniversary Hall of Fame Team. Ten players, all of whom graduated from an Indiana high school in 1974, were chosen for the team. A fellow inductee was NBA Hall-of-Famer Larry Bird, the former Boston Celtics all-star and current coach of the Indiana Pacers. Smith, in fact, roomed with Bird for a month while a member of the Indiana all-star team.
After graduating from high school, Smith had scholarship offers from several universities, but chose Furman because he was told he could play both basketball and baseball.
Smith was a three-year starter at shortstop for the Paladins from 1975-77. As a junior, he helped lead Furman to a 23-16 record, a Southern Conference title and an appearance in the NCAA Atlantic Regional, where the Paladins defeated Virginia Tech and South Carolina before losing to Clemson.
The Paladin basketball teams he played for were even more successful. Known for his scrappy play, Smith was a four-year starter at point guard for the Paladins. The Furman teams of his era won two Southern Conference championships to qualify twice for the NCAA tournament. He captained Furman’s 1977-78 team that defeated Clemson, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
Following the 1977 baseball season, Smith was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and advanced to the Phillies’ AAA Oklahoma affiliate before retiring as a player in 1981. He remained with the Phillies’ organization for the 1982 season, managing squads in both Sarasota, Fla., and Helena, Mont.
After leaving professional baseball, he served as head basketball coach at the Middletown, Ohio, branch of Miami University, where he posted a 116-59 record from 1981-87 and won three conference championships.
During his tenure at Middletown, he began his career as a teacher and administrator in the public schools when he assumed the baseball head coaching duties at Middletown High in 1984. He directed his team to a 42-32 record over a three-year period. In 1989 he took over as basketball coach at Middletown High, and over the next several years compiled a 75-42 record that included conference, sectional and district championships.
In 1993, he returned to his alma mater to coach the Paladin baseball team.
“One of the reasons I came back was because I wanted to work with the caliber of student-athlete that Furman has,” says Smith.
Although he’s known for motivational speeches, Smith says he approaches coaching as a teacher.
“I really want the players to learn the game of baseball, to think when they play,” he says. “We want our players to improve each game. The most satisfying thing for me as a coach is watching them improve and grow into fine young men.”