Photo Courtesy: UCA Athletics (Josh Goff)
CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) -- Former University of Central Arkansas basketball player and director of basketball operations T.K. Smith is the new head men's basketball coach at Ecclesia College in Springdale.
Smith, who played for the Bears from 2008-2011, will take over the Royals program at the age of 24. Smith received his bachelor's degree in health and behavioral sciences from UCA in 2011 and will complete his MBA at UCA in 2013. He spent the 2011-12 season as an assistant coach and assistant athletic director at Ecclesia, a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association., before returning as a member of the UCA coaching staff in 2012-13.
"I didn't expect an opportunity like this to come this early,' said Smith. "I've been dreaming of this since I knew I wanted to be a coach. And it's really every coach's dream to be able to build a program from the ground up, to set the bar and the expectations where you want them.
"It's a lot different than inheriting a program that's already established. With a basketball program that is so young, I will have the opportunity to put my own touch on it and develop it the way I think it should be developed. That's really exciting to me.'
Smith came to UCA as a recruited walk-on under former UCA head coach Rand Chappell and was placed on scholarship during his sophomore season. He played his senior season under Coach Corliss Williamson, who took over the program in 2010-11.
"I am very excited that Coach Smith will have this opportunity to lead Ecclesia's men's basketball program,' said Williamson. "He is very knowledgeable of the game. He is a competitor. With his organizational skills and attention to detail, the Royals will be in good hands. I trust that he will be very successful.'
Smith credits Williamson for his career, both on and off the court.
"What I remember the most is Coach Williamson renewing my scholarship when he really didn't have to,' said Smith, who had decided not to play his final season at UCA until Williamson arrived. "It didn't carry over when he took the job and I think he took a chance on me. He told me I earned it and all that, but I think he really took a chance and gave me that opportunity in my career. And a year later I come back and he gives me an opportunity to be on his coaching staff.
"It's really been the difference in my career, as a basketball player and now as a coach. If he didn't give me the opportunities he's given me, I wouldn't have had the chance to learn what I've learned and build the relationships that have given me the confidence to accept this head coaching position.'
And Smith said the relationship is not over if he has anything to say about it.
"I've already told him he's going to have to set a ring tone for me so he knows to ignore my calls if he gets tired of talking to me,' Smith said with a laugh. "He and Coach (Clarence) Finley, they have basketball knowledge above anyone I've ever met. So I tried to pick their brains all the time. And Coach (Anthony) Walker knows the industry front to back, so I'm always trying to learn things from him about operations, travel, scheduling, all of that, from him. They have all helped me tremendously.'
Smith said you can expect to see up-tempo basketball at Ecclesia, similar to what the Bears play at UCA.
"Playing under and working with Coach Williamson is really the foundation of everything I plan to do at Ecclesia,' said Smith. "Coach Williamson's basketball knowledge is so advanced... I learned something new literally every day, just being around him and having conversations with him. I've always been a fan of the uptempo style of play, and I think we can definitely excel at a lower level like that, playing that fast style of basketball and going deep into the bench.
The state's youngest head coach _ and one of the youngest in the country _ said a game between the Bears and Royals is already in the works.
"We're actually in the middle of scheduling a game right now,' said Smith. "Hopefully we can play them every year. I'll take that loss but it will be nice to play in front of a big crowd at the Farris Center against my alma mater.'
Smith will be returning to an Ecclesia campus he knows well.
"I'm definitely familiar with the environment up there and I'm looking forward to going back and renewing those relationships I had previously,' he said. "I am extremely appreciative to Ecclesia College President Oren Paris and Athletic Director Dean Skinner for the opportunity to lead the men's basketball program.
"This position is a dream come true because it is an opportunity to be part of something much bigger than myself, and much bigger than a game...the game eventually comes to an end for all of us, but we have our faith for eternity."