When the most valuable player for the 1981-82 season was announced, it wasn't a future Hall of Famer in Patrick Ewing or even a future NBA All-Star in Eric Floyd. Instead the honor was awarded to Eric Smith, a 6-5 forward who epitomized the team concept that earned Georgetown national recognition in the late 1970's and early 1980's.
A three sport star at Potomac's Churchill HS, Smith became the first Washington player since 1973 to be first team All-Met in football and basketball, having won Maryland state championships in both football and basketball. Smith passed on college football to join the Hoyas and played sparingly in his first season, but coach John Thompson was not worried. At the start of his career, Thompson remarked that "Eric is the swingman we were looking for...I have never seen Eric play badly in a big game."
Smith proved to be a big game performer throughout his four years. His only start his freshman year was a pivotal late season matchup against Holy Cross, with an ECAC bid on the line. With senior forward Steve Martin injured, Smith played 43 minutes without committing a foul, shot 3 for 3 from the field, and hit a buzzer beater to send the game into overtime, where the Hoyas won 63-54.
For 1979-80, Smith started 11 games, shot 55% from the field, and played a role in three of Georgetown's biggest wins of the season. In January, Smith was 9-10 from the line and sank four free throws during a miracle comeback against Boston College, where the Hoyas battled back from eight points down in the final 1:06--in an era without a shot clock nor the three point shot, this was a major accomplishment. For the 1980 Big East finals, Smith scored a season high 17 points amidst fine defensive work, and followed it up a week later by holding Maryland All-America Albert King to 6 for 18 shooting in the Hoyas' epic 74-68 NCAA regional semifinal win.
Named a co-captain his junior season, Smith joined the starting lineup in the 1980-81 season and started every game for the remainder of his college career. Averaging 10.8 points per game, Smith shot 48% from the field, and turned in a pair of 28 point games, including a 13 of 21 effort against Connecticut that was called one of the finest individual efforts in the young conference to date. His defensive skills were no less valued, and these skills helped earn Smith second team all-Big East honors in 1981.
Smith repeated all conference honors in 1982, as a third team selection, but his senior year was arguably the best year of all. Averaging just under 10 points a game behind the shooting stars of Floyd and Ewing, Smith led the team with 75 steals and contributed 116 assists. As was the case in his earlier years, Smith was a dependable option when it counted most. He scored 17 in an early season showdown with Villanova, 15 against Syracuse, and 11 against #4 Missouri in a nationally televised game at McDonough Gym. Following a relatively quiet four points in the Big East semifinal against St. John's, Smith scored 14 to help lead Georgetown past top seeded Villanova in the conference championship game.
In NCAA play, Smith led the Hoyas with 13 in a tough opening round matchup with Wyoming, holding 6-9 All-American Bill Garnett to just five points in the game. In the Final Four, he led the Hoyas with 14 points against Louisville in the semifinal, and scored another 14 points with five assists against North Carolina in the championship game.
Eric Smith's college career set a high standard for those who followed him--a career 49% shooter, a leader in assists and steals, and a tenacious but smart defender who fouled out of only five games in his career. Eric Smith was not only a talented player, but he made people around him even better, setting him apart as one of Georgetown's great small forwards of the modern era.