MILWAUKEE (BVM) — “I don’t really like talking about myself. I never have. I’ve never been that way.”
It’s true Shannon Smith doesn’t like talking about himself, but someone should talk about him.
The 6-foot-5 wing player had a successful basketball career that took him all the way to the pros. He has been inducted into both the Dominican High School and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Athletic Hall of Fame. Smith’s basketball career was then followed by a career as a therapist in his hometown of Milwaukee as well as with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). He’s also spent time at the broadcaster’s table doing color commentary for local high school basketball games.
The licensed professional counselor was originally a top 100 basketball recruit coming out of Dominican in 1991, where he had led the Knights to a Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association (WISAA) state championship his senior year. Accepting a scholarship to play at Marquette University, Smith spent the first two years of his college career as a member of the then-Warriors.
During his sophomore year he realized that he was not going to get the most out of his basketball career if he stayed at Marquette. Smith began looking for colleges to transfer to. After some time he decided to go to the program that was the first to ever offer him a scholarship back when he was a freshman in high school, UWM.
In just two seasons with the Panthers, Smith was phenomenal. He averaged 24.5 points per game his junior year and finished 10th in the nation in scoring for the 1994-95 season. After his senior year, he left UWM as the fourth all-time leading scorer in the school’s Division I history.
“It was great to get back on the court and it was great to see your potential finally get realized,” Smith said. “That’s the reason why I transferred. I wanted to get more playing time. I wanted a little more freedom and UWM allowed that.”
That potential carried him into a professional career that took him overseas to Europe at one point and then to the NBA with the Indiana Pacers in 1999.
“Finally one summer (Pacers general manager) Donnie Walsh said, ‘We’re going to have you in for a tryout, we’re going to bring in three other guys and if you do well we’ll sign you on the spot.’ I’ll never forget that day. … I walk into Market Square Arena, there’s Larry Bird sitting courtside, Donnie Walsh, Rick Carlisle, Dick Harter, all the scouts and staff and they’re just sitting there and they put us through this workout and my mentality was I’m going to go first and I’m going to put the pressure on everyone else so that’s what I did and I walked off the court and Donnie Walsh said, ‘Congratulations,’” Smith explained.
Shannon Smith retired from professional basketball in 2001, but that’s not the end of his story. Back when he was in college, he was ineligible to play his first season at UWM due to NCAA transfer rules. He used that year to improve his game, but also to take 18 credits both semesters. This allowed him to graduate Cum Laude with a degree in community education during his redshirt junior year.
He then used the final year of his scholarship to begin his graduate work to get a master’s degree in educational psychology to become a therapist. Smith finished this degree after his basketball career.
“The reason why I got into that program is I had a couple of mentors that were teaching at that time at UWM and they told me that once I decided to stop playing this was a field I would be great in,” Smith said. “There are not a lot of African-American therapists and I would be able to write my ticket on what I wanted to do after I got done playing.”
With his master’s he then went on to get multiple licenses to allow him to be more versatile in the counseling he is able to provide.
“I wanted to be dual diagnostic which means you are able to treat clients who struggle with not only mental health, but also they struggle with alcohol and drugs,” Smith said. “Those are two separate licenses and I wanted both of those because there are people who struggle with addiction, but you take away that addiction and now there are things they’ll be going through emotionally.”
In 2013, Smith was approached by the NBPA and with his connections to the NBA and his history of playing professionally, he was a no brainer to join the Clinicians Network for the Anti-Drug/Player Assistance Program for the NBPA.
“I’ve been a part of the Clinicians Board since 2013,” Smith said. “My role with the NBA Players Association Clinician is to provide alcohol and drug treatment to any player that has failed the random drug testing.”
Being able to relate to the players on a whole other level has helped him. He can understand what they are going through because of his basketball background. The players respond better when they know the person they’re talking to has played professionally and knows what that entails. Smith is also proud of the NBA and the Players Association for their progressiveness in all aspects, but especially in mental health.
With initiatives the NBA has started he is also able to help players who are not required to go to counseling. Those who just want to talk can reach out to the Players Association and be given the opportunity to talk to a counselor like Smith.
In his free time, since 2008, Smith also provides color commentary for local high school basketball games. Alongside Bob Brainerd, he has worked for Spectrum Sports (formerly Time Warner Cable Sports Channel) announcing on TV and more recently online for Wisconsin Sports Stream.
It wasn’t something he planned on doing, but once he agreed to do it he wanted to be great at it. With some advice from his former Pacers teammate, Mark Jackson, Smith has been doing local game broadcasts for over a decade and enjoys being able to stay in touch with the Wisconsin, and more specifically Milwaukee, basketball scene.
At the end of the day though he is a therapist by trade and is proud of the work he does and his ability to help people better themselves.
“This has been much more fulfilling than any basketball that I’ve played,” Smith said. “And what I’ve realized working with athletes and people, we are all the same. It just happens that they do something a little bit more extraordinary than others, but when they come into the office it’s just like anybody else. The fulfilling part is knowing that you’re in a position to assist people with their day-to-day living and they trust you enough to tell you the things they are dealing with and they continue to come back.”