Former-Iowa point guard Smith eyes pros

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | JULY 17, 2009 7:15 AM

The chances of a high-school athlete earning a Division-I scholarship are pretty minimal. Similarly, very few make it to theprofessional level.

Kristi Smith is one of those lucky few. The former star point guard at Iowa is in negotiations between her agent and professional basketball teams in Greece and Turkey.

With all the built-up excitement, all she can do is be patient.

“It’s very nerve-racking,” Smith said. “It’s kind of been like playing the waiting game. I’m tempted to send [my agent] an e-mail or call him every day, but I know I’m not his only client, so I don’t want to annoy him.

“He’s working his magic.”

A numerous first-team All-Big Ten selection, Smith first realized her pro potential during her senior year at Iowa while talking to former Hawkeye teammate Johanna Solverson, who was playing in Greece at the time.

“She told me I could play over there, so that gave me a little boost of confidence,” Smith said. “As soon as the season was over, I started getting e-mails from agents and stuff, so I thought I’d check it out.”

The process really began to take off when Smith signed with Greek agent Vasilis Giapalakis. She sent him highlight tapes that he then passed on to several teams in Europe. At 5-6, Smith ranks first in Iowa history for 3-point shooting percentage at 40.7 percent.

She hopes to find a good fit for her style of play, one she described as “fast-paced.”

“I’m a scoring point guard, so obviously I’m going to look to score,” she said. “But obviously, I got to start at the bottom and work my way up, so I’ll probably look to pass a little more.

“I like to run. I’m not the most vocal player out there, but when I do open my mouth, I mean business.”

The Thornton, Colo., native is living in Iowa City and working at Active Endeavors this summer. Smith is also working out with an Iowa strength coach three days a week, scrimmaging with the current women’s team, and doing shooting workouts on her own whenever possible. She also plays in the Game Time League; the sharpshooter dropped 39 points in a game on July 14.

Game Time director Randy Larson has followed Smith her entire Hawkeye career, and, a former European pro himself, he thinks she has the skills it takes to succeed overseas.

“I think she’s going to be a good professional player because she can score,” he said. “Sometimes the teams over there don’t understand the value of a point guard who can score. She really can score, and in fact, she probably really is an off-guard. Defensively, she can guard anybody.

“She’s so unselfish, she’s got such a quick release, and she’s such an unflappable player.”

Larson believes having Solverson in Greece, as well as another former Iowa teammate, Crystal Smith, in Turkey will help Kristi Smith when she gets to Europe.

“The situation she’s going to is good for her because she’s got friends over there and people to live with her and things like that,” Larson said. “That’s the hardest part is adjusting to the social media and everything, but I think she’s going to be a big success if she wants to do it.

“She’s also personally been through a lot of things, and so she may get tired of it and feel as if life is passing her by to not get started on a career. But I think it’s the perfect time to go try when she’s first done with college, and she’s going to a good situation.”

The marketing major said if she weren’t pursuing a professional basketball career, she would most likely go to graduate school or get into coaching.

But any day now, Smith expects to hear good news from Giapalakis. She summed up the feeling of signing her first professional contract in one word at first and then added a few more.

“Amazing,” she said. “I’ve put in a lot of time and effort, especially in the past four years. It will be a great feeling when I actually sign and make it official. It will definitely be a dream come true.”

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