LOGAN — Craig Smith coached at Colorado State from 2007-12, when the Rams played in the Mountain West, and left regional rival Utah State in the Western Athletic Conference.
But he started watching film on the Aggies as he scouted other teams. UNLV. New Mexico. Wyoming. Something stood out to him.
“I loved watching teams when they played here,” said Smith, who was introduced as the Aggies' 19th men’s basketball coach in school history Tuesday. “The spirit and atmosphere was incredible. I always thought I would love to play at that place; it was the people.”
Known as a loud, passionate and vocal coach during head coaching stops at NAIA Mayville State and South Dakota of the Summit League, the 45-year-old Smith brought energy, enthusiasm and a hoarse voice to his introduction in Logan at the Wayne Estes Center.
“What a great name for an arena,” Smith said in an aside, a nod to the facility’s sponsor of Dee Glen Smith.
He has to win on the court but new @USUBasketball head coach Craig Smith definitely won the press conference. What do you think about the hire Aggie fans? #aggiesalltheway@KSL5TVpic.twitter.com/zicXSLFdMt— Jeremiah Jensen (@JJSportsBeat) March 28, 2018
Utah State athletic director John Hartwell hopes to bring the “magic” back to Spectrum magic, and is confident that the latest Smith will do just that, too.
“It won’t take you all very long to see the juice and energy that coach Craig Smith is going to infuse,” he said. “Not just into our men’s basketball program, not just into our athletic department, but into our university and into Cache Valley — and that’s one of the things that I’m really, really excited about.”
His way won’t be easy, he promised. South Dakota (26-9) finished No. 81 overall in KenPom in 2018, just six spots behind the top-rated Summit League squad and NCAA Tournament qualifier South Dakota State.
The Coyotes were 98th in adjusted offense, 69th in adjusted defense and 51st in adjusted tempo. For reference, Utah State (17-17) was 132nd in adjusted offense, 165th in defense and 244th overall in tempo for the No. 137 rating that led to Tim Duryea’s release after three seasons.
South Dakota made back-to-back postseason appearances in the final two seasons of Smith’s four-year tenure in Vermillion, South Dakota, going to the NIT as the Summit League regular-season champs a year ago and playing in the College Basketball Invitational in 2018.
“We want to be good right away. But the idea is that when you take shortcuts, you get cut short,” Smith said. “We are building a program here to have sustained success. Every year, we want you to pencil us toward the top and always have a chance to win the Mountain West championship.”