Saul Smith walked across the stage last Sunday and like everyone else got a piece of paper that symbolizes a diploma. His real one, which will be in Economics, won't be mailed to him until he finishes a couple more classes later this year.
Still, he has graduated. He has finished. In all senses of the words.
A happy occasion. Yet it is sad to see him go.
For Saul Smith was the toughest player in UK history. Not toughest as in best, most clutch. Not toughest as in roughest, meanest. And not toughest as in the most talented, most tantalizing.
But the toughest as in most like a piece of vulcanized rubber. Toughest as in grittiest, as in had to put up with the most crap.
Disagree? No problem. Feel free to think and say what you want about him - most people have and will continue to do so. But know, at least, that he has plenty to say and think back.
Last week, I took a few moments to ask him about some of that.
What's the immediate future hold for Saul Smith?
I want to be a financial lawyer, that's just something I've been pretty interested in. I gotta take the LSAT in November, so I gotta get ready for that. I've sent out my applications...three of them already, but they won't really know until I take the LSAT. So I gotta wait until then. But I've already had word from some of these schools that they were gonna accept me, so I was like... cool. It's kinda up to me whether I want to go to UGA, Cincinnati, or Kentucky. Those are my three choices, really.
What was your favorite thing about being a student at UK?
The meaningful times are when you get to spend time with your peers. And meeting friends. I mean, I've got a bunch of buddies that I still hang with that I met my freshman year. These guys aren't even on the team.
Least favorite thing about your time in Lexington?
I pretty much enjoyed all my college career. It has been the greatest four years of my life so far. But I'd like to forget the tough losses man. We've had some tough losses... where we put everything on the table and we lost. Or we didn't show up to play or weren't ready to play... that really hurts whenever you play and you see you're better than that team.
When did it hit you that it was over?
I don't know. I don't even know if it has hit me yet. It will be crazy next year when I won't be able to be out there. I see the guys right now working out, getting ready for next season, and I'm like, 'Man, what am I getting ready for?'
Did playing so well individually in your last game give you any vindication?
You get a slight vindication because you want to make sure in your last game that you want to go out giving it you all. You don't want to go out laying down. You don't want to leave your university saying, 'I wish I would have played harder. I wish I would have did this.' You want to say, 'I gave my all. I gave 100 percent, that's all anybody can ask of you,' and you should be proud of what you did. And that's the only thing you can really take with you is that you gave your best effort. And I tried to give my best effort.
You had a lot of critics...
I don't really have too much to say to those people, you know? You kind of question what they're really criticizing, of course... Are they criticizing your play, are they criticizing whatever? But as long as you give 100 percent, no one can really criticize you.
How much did that criticism bother you?
It didn't bother me that much, because I never really heard that much criticism. You can go find the criticism. You can turn the radios on. You can read the emails. But if you don't really want to deal with it, don't look at it. It never really found me. It never really got under my skin to where it affected me. So...
And my parents, they didn't worry about it. My friends didn't worry about it... my teammates, the administration. Those are the only people that matter to me.
Any other comments about critics or the media?
The media has been great to me. I just want to tell them thanks for the four years they've given me. And the wonderful things they've written about me. That's great. People don't realize that the media here in Lexington and Louisville... they've done a great job of reporting on me and my dad... and I really appreciate it. It's the other people, the 3 percent of crazy fans... that have the negative side. You don't really worry about that. But the media has been tremendous.
So what about the other 97 percent of fans?
I want to thank all of them. I got a million fans, man. I get at least ten letters a day for support. And it's just awesome to see that those people care about you. And now that I'm finished, I'm still getting fan letters saying how proud of me they are. It's really cool. Because what can I do for them? I mean, I can't win any more ball games for them. But they still want to give me a lot of love. That's awesome.
What will be your most endearing memory?
Probably my most endearing memory is going to be playing for my father, because that's just an awesome experience. Not a lot of kids have opportunity to do that, you know? Not only he's my dad, but he's probably the best coach in America. So it's crazy... and it just happens to be your dad. You get to spend time with him. That was the first time I got to spend time with him growing up... he was always out of town.
What will you be most proud of?
Just... my overall career games, my durability. I'm really proud of that. I'm really proud of the accomplishments I had my freshman year with the national championship. And I'm definitely proud of the triple crown we won this year: SEC tournament, division title, and outright title. Every senior wants to go out with a SEC title, and I was fortunate enough to get all three. I'm also proud of my assist total, because that's about unselfishness.
And how do you want to be remembered?
Oh man, just my hard work. Man, I really felt like I tried to leave everything on the court. I really felt like if I can out there and bust my tail, dive for lose balls, then that would really help my team. And that's what I'm all about: team. Team, team, team.
I wasn't flashy. I mean, I didn't try to do all that stuff that some guys try to do. I mean, I didn't go out and try to dunk on people. But I'm just an unselfish player. I'm gonna play hard.
Was there a part of your game you disliked?
I think if I... I feel like my game is actually pretty good, you know. Coach asks certain guys to do certain things. He didn't ask me to do much scoring. Yet, when I was in high school, I could score at will. On teams at UK... my freshman year, I had guys that could score. And then my sophomore year, I had guys that could do that also. My junior year, we didn't have that, and I didn't really accept the role of scoring until late in the season, and it was too late by then. This past season, we had guys that could score like Keith and Tayshaun, so it was kind of like I needed to find my role each year. Do I need to be a scorer, do I need to be a leader? And this year definitely, my job was to be a leader. But I really wish sometimes I would have looked to score more. My dad used to tell me "look to score a little bit more, but you still need to get every body else involved," so that's a fine line you gotta really toe. Or coach will say the point guard's shooting too much, or he's not shooting enough.
Will you be bitter about anything? One could argue that you have reason to be.
No, heck no man. No man, that's not me. A lot of people say, "Saul, why don't you tell the people where they can shove it." But that's not me. That's not how my parents raised me.
Where will we find you in 10 years?
I want to be a financial lawyer. I want to be involved in sports some how - but not coaching. Maybe handle my dad's assets. Handle my dad's contract. It's up there, isn't it? You know, be his agent.
He's cool, man. He's cool.
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