There aren't all that many people left in the world for Randy Smith to surprise. He's done it to every other guard in the NBA by now. Jack Ramsay, his coach at Buffalo, is on the list and so is Eddie Donovan, until last week the Braves' general manager, who picked Randy as a 6'3" forward in the seventh round of the 1971 college draft in what amounted to a public-relations gesture. Howie MacAdam, Randy's coach at Buffalo State, is another. He didn't even know Smith played basketball until school began. In his capacity as State's Athletic Director, MacAdam had recruited Smith for the track team.
Randy has a penchant for springing surprises. A while back he astonished the Braves' management by telling them he was thinking of playing professional soccer in the NBA off-season. He would probably excel at that game, too, and in the Superstars competition, if he were invited. But his biggest surprise this season is the way he has helped the playoff-bound Braves to their best record ever. This is the year that Randy Smith finally managed to harness his spectacular speed and his exceptional physical talents and has emerged as one of pro basketball's finest guards.
Ray Melchiorre, the Braves' trainer, says Smith has the most perfect body for an athlete he's ever seen. "Legs like Secretariat," he says. "You could take him into an anatomy class and show every muscle in the body." Before Smith came to the Braves, he never had an ankle taped and never had an injury, despite playing one sport or another practically every day of his life since childhood. This is only his fourth year with Buffalo, and he holds the NBA's second-longest consecutive game string (259) as of the end of last week.
At Bellport (L.I.) High School Smith starred in basketball, soccer (there was no football team), and track, but didn't draw a great deal of attention from college scouts, partly because Bellport is a small high school and partly because his college board scores were not much higher than his scoring average.
But he did catch the fancy of MacAdam, who watched him at the State Intersectional track meet in his senior year when he won the high jump with a state record leap of 6'6�" and placed third in the long jump with a 23'1�"- Buffalo State admitted him, and the Randy Smith legend began.
Not content to sit around until the track season started, he went out for freshman soccer ( Buffalo State didn't have a football team, either) and scored just three fewer goals than all of State's opponents combined. After that, MacAdam suspected that he might have discovered a basketball star to boot. Soon it was obvious that he had, and Smith gained a courtside following despite the presence of two certified All-Americas in the area: Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure and Calvin Murphy of Niagara.
As a junior, Smith led State to the semifinals of the NCAA College Division championship, averaging 30 points a game. He scored all the goals in a wild 4-0 soccer victory over archrival Niagara. He set a school record in the high jump (6'10�") and briefly held the national college division record in the triple-jump (52'1�") Randy Smith stories proliferated. After spending the night in a Philadelphia jail—the result of a complicated misunderstanding with an off-duty patrolman—he placed second in two events at the Penn Relays. A month after the last basketball game of his sophomore year, he won five events in a dual track meet with the University of Buffalo.
As it turned out, Smith needed every bit of the celebrity he gained in Buffalo. If he hadn't been so well known there, the Braves, then a pitiful expansion team, might never have drafted him. "We didn't exactly expect Randy to make our team," said Donovan recently. "When you're drafting that far down, you're looking to give a local kid a chance who might not get one. With his name, if he makes it he helps us. If not, we still look good for giving him a chance."
At the Braves' 1971 camp, Smith again found himself overshadowed, this time by two rookies of greater acclaim—7'1" Elmore Smith and high-scoring Guard Fred Hilton. On the first day, Coach Dolph Schayes lined everyone up for the "suicide drill," a gruelling series of back-and-forth sprints. When Smith finished, Hilton, his closest pursuer, still had a zig and zag to make. "Something's wrong," yelled Schayes. "Do it again." Same thing. Randy Smith sat down under the basket waiting for the rest to finish. "He's fast," said Schayes. "He's staying."
Smith began his rookie season as a forward, the 12th man, but John McCarthy, who replaced Schayes when the season was one game old, decided Randy should become a guard. By the end of the season he had made the difficult transition and was a starting guard on a team that finished 22-60. Says veteran Guard Em Bryant, who was with the Braves then, "Randy may not appear to be the smartest man in the world, but he is a brilliant athlete. Anything he sees that looks right, he can do."