By John Gatto
For the Mountain Advocate
Former Union College guard Tarik Smith has moved on from the Barbourville campus and right into professional basketball, as the Tempe, Arizona native is currently playing for the Bowling Green Bandits of the American Basketball Association (ABA).
Currently, the ABA is a semi-professional league that boasts teams all across the United States. The Bandits, who play their home games inside E.A. Diddle Arena on the Western Kentucky University campus, play in the Gulf Coast division of the league and boast a 10-1 record at the moment.
For Smith, the transition to professional basketball has been an interesting one.
“[Playing professional basketball] is completely different from playing in college, where sports come second to school,” said Smith. “Now a days, this is my job. All my time and effort goes into bettering myself in order to keep progressing.
“The main goal is to attain an overseas contract and play professionally, and I feel like I’m in the best position to do so with playing on this team.”
Smith, however, looks back fondly on his time at Union, in which the men’s basketball program transformed into one of the best in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. The person Smith thanks the most for his transformation into the player and person he has become today is head coach Kevin Burton.
“The time I spent at Union was by far the best two years of my life thus far,” said Smith. “I loved Union because of the family like atmosphere it provides towards its students. I got to interact with the same people day in and day out, and I feel like it gave me some lifelong friends and bonds with the individuals I met at Union.
“Coach Burton helped me grow up fast and mature into the player I am today. The first year I played it was a rough road with a lot of learning. The second year was nothing short of remarkable from how the past season transpired.”
The season Smith alludes to was Union’s record breaking 28-5 season in 2013-14, that saw the Bulldogs win both the AAC Regular Season (their first of any kind since the 1971-72 season) and Tournament titles, on their way to the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
Smith was a key piece for that Bulldog team, earning All-AAC Second Team honors after averaging 12.5 points per game, while leading the team in steals with 53.
“I’m very proud of Tarik and everything he has accomplished,” said Burton. “He was a good student, as well as a good basketball player. He played a vital part in our success as a basketball program. He transformed himself from a good athlete; to a very good mature basketball player with leadership qualities that helped us become a nationally recognized program.
“He will be a success story with any area of life he decides to take.”