Today the Columbia Lions introduced their new basketball coach, former St. Mary’s assistant Kyle Smith. We sneaked onstage after his introductory press conference to chat.
You were at St. Mary’s during the big run in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Tell us about Omar Samhan.
He’s nuts. He’s a bigger-than-life personality. I can’t wait — he’s going to get some workouts with the Knicks and the Nets sometime soon, so I’m going to parade him through Columbia. They will not be ready for him.
Were you shocked at what a media darling he became during the tournament?
No, we held him down for four years. Once we won some tournament games, I looked at [St. Mary’s head coach] Randy [Bennett] and said, “He knows we can’t bench him, we got no more leverage.” He’s always had that personality. He’s a larger-than-life guy — he enjoys life; he enjoys people. It’s nice that he earned it for the right reasons — he easily could have gone the other way.
We imagine he was a handful. At Columbia, you have a much more toned-down team.
I think I’ll relate more on a college-playing experience. I went to Hamilton, and it’s not Columbia, but Alexander Hamilton went to Columbia. I think it will play well with these guys. One of the kids, I think, will be pretty good, Brian Barbour. I recruited [him] at St. Mary’s, but he ended up going to Columbia. He chose Columbia over St. Mary’s, and I think that’s the thing about this league. Columbia’s a good job because for some of these kids, and he’s local, they aspire to do this regardless … so when you say Sweet 16, it’s actually possible.
Did Cornell’s Sweet 16 run make this job more desirable?
Somewhat, I think a little bit, Cornell and Harvard. I think Tommy Amaker figured out, it’s a pretty easy sell. You’re selling gold: An Ivy League degree is gold.
Have you thought about recruiting in New York?
Obviously it’s a worldwide search, because academics itself lends itself to a handful of guys to recruit every year. Obviously we’ll get involved and hopefully [New York kids] will get onboard. If you’re a New York kid, there’s nothing better than staying close — that’s what happened to our guy Omar. He went to school ten minutes away from the Bay Area and now he owns it. For these kids, if you’re a Columbia grad and you’re a good basketball player on a good team? I can’t imagine.
Most important question: What restaurants have you gone to?
I’ve heard Carmine’s I’m supposed to hit. That’s a done deal.
And Broadway shows?
I did see Memphis. And I highly recommend it.