Jan. 8, 2014
Commodore History Corner Archive
On Nov. 11, 2002 the famous Harlem Globetrotters played Vanderbilt on the floor of Memorial Gym. But this was not the typical Globetrotter squad known throughout the world for tricks, funny routines, “Sweet Georgia Brown” and whooping the Washington Generals. These experienced Globetrotters were on a three-week tour playing serious, straight basketball without all the tricks against college teams.
It was a competitive game that Vanderbilt surprisingly won, 70-68, when Commodore Matt Freije hit a fade away buzzer-beater to hand the ’Trotters a rare loss. The Globetrotters lost the next night at the University of Maryland, giving the team back-to-back losses for the first time since 1961.
Corey Smith (2002-05) was a sophomore who scored 10 points against the Globetrotters that night in front of 6,717 fans. The guard/forward would actually wear the famous red, white and blue uniform himself after graduating from Vanderbilt. Smith is the only former Vanderbilt basketball player to play on the Harlem Globetrotters.
“The name speaks for itself,” Smith said recently from his Houston home. “That was one game coach [Kevin Stallings] didn’t have to get us pumped up. The fact that we were playing the Globetrotters was enough. We were excited to be out there on the floor with them. We had a pretty good team that year. It was a great confidence boost going into the season to win that game.”
Vanderbilt, West Virginia and the University of Texas at Austin recruited the Houston native. Smith said it was a “no-brainer” to play his college basketball at prestigious Vanderbilt due to the strong academics and to play in the SEC. Vanderbilt was 17-15 in Smith’s first year and started nine games as a true freshman.
“I was thinking to myself this is nothing like high school,” Smith said. “This is work. It was a rude awakening coming from high school practices, which is not so intense. My coach was not necessarily that intense. They definitely put you through a level you did not know was there. During the season, everybody on the team was competitive and wanted to win. Everybody wanted to be better and I just used that competitiveness as a way to work on my game to get better and to start.”
Smith became a full-time starter the next season, which was an 11-18 record. He was asked to describe Coach Stallings and his some of his coaching methods.
“Coach Stallings is real intense, serious and straight forward,” said Smith. “He doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t hold back. It was really intense in games when you messed up. If he draws up a play and it doesn’t go the way it is supposed to, and you look at the sideline you get that sense of fear in you. For me, he was a motivator.
“He finds a way to motivate each individual player. Every player is not the same. You can yell at one player and get them off their behinds. That will get their attention. You have another player that you yell at and he might break down and not be productive. For me it was more of him yelling and being upset and pushing my buttons. It made me want to go out there and play better.”
As a junior, Smith was on a team that was 23-10 (8-8 SEC) and made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores defeated Western Michigan (71-58), N.C. State (75-73) while losing to Connecticut (73-53). Smith converted a three-point play with 23 seconds remaining to help in the win over N.C. State.
“That was the year we still talk about in reunions and the most memorable season I had at Vanderbilt,” Smith said. “When we came off the bus after making it to the Sweet 16, all the fans and the student body was behind the gym waiting for us. It was a feeling that was unexplainable.”
Vanderbilt (20-14) made it to the NIT when Smith was a senior. After defeating Indiana 67-60 in Bloomington in the first round, the Commodores returned home for a contest with Wichita State in Memorial Gym. In that game, Smith participated in a buzzer-beater that was recorded on a long list of “Memorial Magic” in a “March Madness” moment.
The Commodores were tied with the Shockers, 63-63 with an impossible .07 seconds left. With the ESPN audience and Vandy faithful expecting overtime, Smith received a full court pass from Jason Holwerda over a Wichita State defender. Smith, standing in front of the basket, caught the pass, turned around and made a quick lay-up for the 65-63 victory. Next Vanderbilt would exit the tournament with a loss at Memphis (81-68).
“There were a lot of moving parts with that play,” Smith said. “There were a lot of things that built up to that point setting up the play. If Mario Moore had not hit about three 3-pointers in a row, two guys would not have run down the court covering him. They did that because he was hot. In their heads they were thinking we did not want this guy to make another 3-pointer. They were concentrating on him. Jason just threw a full court pass that was right on the money.
“He could have had the ball slip off his fingers or stepped wrong. I could have dropped the pass or not been in position to catch the ball. The stars just aligned the way they were supposed to. It was so intense at that moment. The last thing they were thinking is this guy is going to throw a pass the full length of the court. It would be more logical that we’d throw it to halfcourt for a shot. I’m not sure that’s what coach had in mind when he drew up the play. But it definitely worked for the best.”
In four seasons as a Commodore, Smith played in 124 games, made 87 starts, scored 950 points (7.7 avg.), made 111 three pointers in 303 attempts (.366 pct.), averaged 3.4 rebounds per game, dished out 202 assists and collected 96 steals. As a senior he was selected as Second Team All-SEC. After graduating from Vanderbilt, Smith would have tryouts with the NBA’s Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers. Instead, Smith became a Harlem Globetrotter.
“The Globetrotters had a coach from Houston and they had open tryouts,” Smith said. “My agent told me about it and put in a good word for me. Me and another guy tried out and made the Globetrotters. Pretty much the rest is history. At that time the Globetrotters had two different teams. They had one team that did all the tricks and special stuff. The other team was serious and competitive. I was on the serious team. A lot of that was during the school year where we played mostly colleges. In between I played on the trick team, but my main purpose was to play on the competitive team.”
Smith said he played a lot on the competitive team, but his minutes were cut down with the regular team. He was required to learn all the tricks and routines. Learning to be a Globetrotter was difficult, but the athletic Smith could perform the routines that made the team famous and popular.
“Most practices were straight basketball with real drills,” Smith said. “When we had practices for the competitive team, it was a real all out practice just like college. When we were getting ready to go on tour with the trick team, it was more laid back. It was still serious, not like we were clowning around. We had to get in shape. The guys with the Globetrotters were serious about their craft and serious about their name. The fans paid money to watch us do tricks. We needed to take it serious and not throw the ball all over the court when they came to see us.”
During a Globetrotters’ game, their opponent sometimes (mainly the Washington Generals) would stand around to witness a trick play and they knew a free basketball was about to be made uncontested.
“The other team that travels with us knows what their job is,” said Smith. “Everybody has a job. Their job is to be out there and to decoy so to speak. It’s not really serious out there. They know the Globetrotters are supposed to get the easy bucket. They are supposed to chase the guys that dribble the ball. If they did try to win it would be big problems (laughs). Because the entire show is not designed for them to win. If somehow they did win it would be unbelievable.”
One requirement for the Globetrotters is the travel across the country and internationally. They have played games in over 120 countries since their origination in 1926. Smith was asked about all that travel.
“When I first started I loved it,” Smith said. “But after a while it gets exhausting. It gets exhausting because you don’t necessarily know your schedule. They could call you on a Wednesday or Thursday and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this tour or this promotion going on and you need to be on a plane Friday or Saturday.’ It wasn’t something you were planning, but you had to pack your bags and be ready to go. Without that consistency you couldn’t plan a vacation with your family. You never know when you are going to get that phone call and that became frustrating.”
There was one overseas trip that Smith will never forget.
“I actually participated in one big trip they had,” said Smith. “I had a chance to go to Iraq. You talk about an experience. It was amazing. You are in these U.S. Army camps. They say you are safe. They tell you when you are inside the gate there are no problems and nothing to worry about. But when you actually get there and you are talking to the soldiers they are like ‘Hey, there are these extremists on the other side of this gate and they are lobbing bombs on our camp.’
“They did not have any kind of accuracy. They had actually built structures for protection that had been blown up by these bombs. And we are inside this little dormitory where you can hear these bombs going off outside. It was definitely scary. I was so glad to get out of there.”
A favorite moment for Smith and the Globetrotters is their humanitarian work they enjoy when a catastrophe is involved.
“The Globetrotters are the ‘Ambassadors of Goodwill,’” Smith said. “After a hurricane hit Mississippi, they sent me and a few players down there to put on a small show for the people. To see what they went through with all the houses and trees knocked down and the kids with dirty clothes and shoes touched my heart. Because of the hurricane they did not have their normal way of living. They were in these camps and the living conditions were horrible.
“Once we came down there in our uniforms to put on a show it was like none of that ever happened to them. The kids were smiling and loved that we came. We handed out wristbands, basketballs and shirts. The look on those kids’ faces was something I will never forget. It was one of those times that their minds were clear and we made them happy for a moment. It was a good feeling.”
After playing three years for the Globetrotters, Smith played overseas in Finland, Uruguay and Latvia. Smith enjoyed experiencing the different cultures from outside the United States. Today he lives in Houston and is a real estate agent and works for an oil and gas company.
While playing four years of his college basketball at Vanderbilt, Smith became very familiar with the university’s catchy fight song “Dynamite!” In three years as a Harlem Globetrotter, Smith became very familiar with the their internationally known signature tune, “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
So which tune does Smith favor?
“Dynamite, baby,” Smith said while laughing.
Traughber’s Tidbit: In the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd,” starring Andy Griffith set in Arkansas and Memphis, Vanderbilt is mentioned. Actor Walter Matthau’s character was from Nashville and graduated from Vanderbilt in 1944. Throughout the movie he was referred to as “Vanderbilt 44.”
If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.