Karen Smith: The Shy Center With A Magic Touch

"You could say I'm the strong, silent type--at least I let everybody think so," willowy Crimson hoopster Karen Smith says. In fact, the 5-ft., 11-in. sophomore with almond-shaped eyes and a quiet smile, looks more like a dancer than a basketball player.

Smith comes across the same way on the court. She doesn't race down the floor, she glides. She doesn't jump, jerk, fake and twist her shots in; she floats up, arches and guides the ball through the hoop.

On the bench, however, Smith undergoes an amazing transformation, gesticulating wildly, laughing, pouting, stomping her feet or grabbing a player in unaffected enthusiasm. She is anything but quiet.

But it's not often one gets a chance to see her sitting on the bench. Smith has played in every one of the hoopster's 22 games this season, starting in almost all of them.

Currently Harvard's second leading scorer and rebounder behind center Elaine Holpuch, Smith averages 10.4 points per game, hitting a team high .469 from the floor. She also leads the hoopsters in total individual points--228 for the season.

Home fans have learned to expect Smith to score from under the basket. Smith has patented the "gymnastic layup": team-mates feed the ball to the fleet forward who waits--apparently out of position--underneath the net. In one quick motion, Smith arches her back and releases the ball, banking it against the boards and into the webbing. She has been so successful with this shot that recently B.U. put three players against Smith to block her from getting inside.

Smith, who hails from New Castle, Delaware, grew up in a basketball family. "We're a pretty jockish bunch," she says, laughingly recalling her little brother: "He thinks he's this great basketball player--Olympic material. He spends all day practicing his 'moves' up in his room."

Nonchalance

Smith's own posture, however, is very unassuming; her shyness and humility take many by surprise. She remembers last year's University of Connecticut game as the high point of her basketball career. The hoopsters hung on in that dead-even contest to beat UConn in the last 14 seconds of overtime behind Smith's inspired play.

Smith is known for her exceptional rebouding, a skill she has acquired despite her slender build. Working out with big, 6-ft., 1-in. center Elaine Holpuch during practice has taught Smith how to handle the bruisings she often takes under the boards.

Somewhere among daily three-hour practices, weekend away-game trips, a twelve-hour-a-week job and her academics, Smith finds time to indulge her addiction for soap operas.

Smith is well-liked by her teammates, who are intrigued with the wealth of talent and personality quirks hidden beneath her quiet exterior. "We call her' Karen 'No Biggie' Smith," explains fellow hoopster Kim Belshe, "because no matter what happens it won't ruffle her, it's 'no big deal' to Karen."

Smith's "laid back" approach tends to exasperate coach Carole Kleinfelder on occasion, who sees in Smith the potential for one of the best hoop players in the Ivy League.

Free to Be...

"Karen can be any kind of player she wants to be," declares Kleinfelder, adding that "She has to work on her skill level more." Smith got a late start in basketball, coming into the sport as a junior in high school instead of the usual debut in junior high.

But, as Kleinfelder observes, "She gets better each year. Karen was the key in a lot of our wins this year, and if she works hard at developing her skills, there's no limit to what she can do."

Smith gave a repeat performance of last year's UConn game against Bentley College this year, sinking the game-winning bucket in the last seconds of that overtime victory. The cagers, who will face tough competition in the upcoming Ivy League tournament this weekend, will pin their hopes on Smith to pull them through. When she talks about the Ivy Championships, you can see the intense determination glowing beneath her surface nonchalance. For Karen Smith, this will be a "biggie."