Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, January 25, 2002


Hawaii-Hilo assistant coach Alika Smith, left, joined the Vulcans because of Jeff Law, right, Hilo head coach and Smith's coach at UH.

Still shooting
from the bench

Alika Smith, the former Manoa sharpshooter,
passes on his knowledge to Hawaii-Hilo players

By Jerry Campany

When Hawaii's best NCAA Division II shooters were developing their games in high school, they spent their days trying to be as good as Alika Smith.

Now, Hawaii's all-time leader in 3-point shooting is trying to be as good as they are.

Smith, 26, is a student assistant coach for Jeff Law at Hawaii-Hilo, helping the Vulcans' guards try to keep their hold on the top spot in the conference. His job is to impart wisdom to players, some of whom watched his every move on the court when they were in high school, give them his "shooter's mentality" and learn as much about the coaching game as he can.

But his most important task is to imitate the Pac-West's best shooters before they step onto the floor against his new charges.

"I'll be someone on the other team, usually their best shooter," Smith said. "Like if we are playing HPU, I will be like Nick (Spajic) or Nash (Subotic) or one of those guys. I just do what I can to be like them."


He may not be as quick or be able to jump as high as in his glory days with UH, but he is still able to hit enough to keep the Vulcans honest.

"He can still stick it," Law said. "He helps us big-time. It was good for him to be Albert Powell when we played Chaminade, him being left-handed and all."

The Vulcans held Powell, Chaminade's top scorer, to six points in 33 minutes on 2-for-13 shooting Monday in a 62-59 win.

For Smith, pretending to be one of Division II's best is just another challenge. Coaching might bring less glory than hitting a game-winner, but it is no less important to him. One look at his serious demeanor on the Hilo bench at game time suggests that it is a whole lot more difficult.

"Before every game I still get excited," Smith said. "Pressure situations are a lot different when you are sitting on pine than when you are playing. You feel a little bit helpless."

Smith found his way to Hilo when Law, who had coached Smith while they were at Manoa, started making routine recruiting calls to Kalaheo coach Pete Smith -- Alika's dad -- while trying to recruit Skyler Wilson.

Law didn't get the point guard, but he did get a shooting coach.

When they weren't talking about Wilson, Pete Smith and Law talked about Alika's yearning about returning to school and Law's need for another coach.

When he finished playing basketball for the Rainbows and began weighing offers from professional basketball and baseball teams, Alika promised his mother he would get his degree when he was finished with the fun and games.

Alika had spent years coaching kids at his father's basketball camp and was again learning basketball as an assistant for his dad at Kalaheo when he decided that Hilo was the next step in his evolution as a teacher.

Working with college players is something any aspiring coach needs, even if his only ambition is to be a high school coach.

"At this level, you can't change a guy's game," Alika said. "Most of it in college is mental, and that is part of the game that my father taught me a lot about. A lot of people have different ways of coming back from a miss; some put their heads down and keep missing. I try to tell them what someone once told me: 'You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.' Shooters shoot."

Although he is spending time learning from Law again, Alika is not sure he wants to make coaching his life's work. As has been his story since he first picked up a basketball, Alika has options, and it is just a matter of choosing one and seeing where it will take him.

He says that the Pittsburgh Pirates have offered to travel to Hilo to see him throw a baseball again, but Alika wants to follow through on his final two semesters as a sociology major before deciding whether he will stay on to get his master's degree in counseling, give baseball another try or jump on any other opportunities that are bound to pop up.

But coaching will always be an option.

"I'd like to follow in my father's footsteps, he seems to enjoy it (coaching)," Alika said. "Through all the years, he is still the best coach I've ever had."

But before Alika becomes the next Pete Smith, he has to walk away from Hilo soaking up as much information as he imparts. One thing is sure: He will never lack the respect of his players.

"When he came in, half the players didn't know him from a hole in the wall and the other half grew up watching him with the Rainbows," Law said. "But he is a laid-back guy and lets their respect come to him."

Not that Alika didn't worry a little bit about how the new breed of college athletes would take to him.

"Actually, I was a little nervous," Alika said. "I am not much older than them, I was afraid they might see me and say, 'What does this guy know?' But they are great guys and they gave me respect right from the beginning."

It was a respect that probably grew the first time Smith showed them how good the opposing shooters can be.

Coming up

Who: PacWest-leading Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans (15-3 overall, 5-1 PacWest) vs. Hawaii Pacific Sea Warriors (12-5, 3-2).

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Blaisdell Arena

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