EVANSVILLE, IN — Patrick Smith and his Mercyhurst Lakers nearly pulled off the upset of the ages in the DII Men’s Elite Eight. They fell just short, falling to undefeated No. 1 Northwest Missouri State 55-51.
For Smith, it was his last game in a Lakers uniform, and probably his last in a basketball jersey. There’s not an NBA contract in Smith’s future, and quite honestly, he probably wouldn’t take it if there was. After all, he played basketball and dominated it. That’s old news.
Let’s go back to high school. Where Smith didn’t play one second of high school basketball and was a self-proclaimed music nerd.
“I was a music nerd in the choir,” Smith told NCAA.com laughing. “I would actually eat my lunch with the professor, Mr. Allen. We would just sit and talk about music. But I also wasn’t 6-4 at the time.”
Smith then continued to pursue his music career in junior college outside of Washington, D.C. He had to pay his way through junior college and he put that music nerdom to good use. “I took my keyboard outside and played at the train stations in D.C. It got me through one semester.”
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But then it got cold, and the money ran thin. Smith embarked on his next adventure and joined the Navy, where he would spend the next five years on a submarine. That's where he met his roommate, Enrico Poole.
“When you're not 21 in the military, you can't go out to bars with everyone else,” Smith said. “So, everyone who’s not 21 in the military either plays video games or goes to the gym. I’m not a video gamer, so Enrico was big into basketball and pulled me to the gym.
“That’s when I realized how connected basketball makes you. You build these friendships, and relationships, and bonds that a lot of people don’t get unless you’ve played basketball to this extent.”
2019 ATLANTIC REGION CHAMPIONS! ☘️🏀 pic.twitter.com/yd3du6Xp4z— Mercyhurst Men's Basketball (@HurstMBBall) March 20, 2019
Smith became a basketball player, and a good one. The different boats formed their own teams for an intramural league, but that wasn’t a big enough challenge for Smith and his friends. That’s when the Hounds were formed.
“We ordered jerseys and we would go out and play in the local adult leagues,” Smith said. “That’s when my teammates told me, ‘you can’t re-enlist, you have to go play basketball.’ They were the key influences of me pursuing this.”
So, on to the next adventure.
Smith, who had been stationed in Seattle on a submarine the past five years, headed back home to Maryland where he attended Montgomery College. In his first season, he won the Maryland JUCO championship. The second year? He was named the Maryland JUCO player of the year.
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Looks like the Hounds were right.
“Winning and accomplishing that much, being successful at things other people encouraged you to do, it’s all gratitude," Smith said. "People saw something in me that I didn’t, so you’re just like, 'thank you for encouraging me to do this because I would not have if you didn’t.'”
Then came Mercyhurst. It wasn’t like the Lakers were new on his radar. Head coach Gary Manchel courted Smith as soon as Smith headed back east. But five years on a submarine in Seattle is a long time away from family, and Smith was committed to staying home with them.
At least for a while.
Manchel never swayed. He recruited Smith and finally, he became a Laker. While Smith definitely credits the relationship he built with Manchel as part of the reason he went to Mercyhurst despite other offers, it wasn’t the sole reason.
The music nerd was back. Except now, he’s a grown, compassionate man who’s ready to share his story and passion with others. And this time, he is 6-4, so it's best to be careful calling him names.
“Right now, my end goal is to teach music,” Smith said. “But right now I’m a vocal performance major and a communications major. I’m happy. I knew it was going to be over this weekend in basketball. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but now I have the lead role in the opera in a couple of weeks, and I can actually focus.”
That’s right. His Lakers basketball career may have ended in that Elite Eight game against Northwest Missouri State — after picking up Atlantic Region MVP honors, naturally — but it’s just the next step in his journey. Now, he is the lead in Don Pasquale, a comedic opera — or opera buffa for those so inclined — where he plays an old man who gets fooled by his nephew and lover.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Smith — whose favorite opera is Rigoletto in case you were curious — is more of a “jazz head”. He performs out around town, you know, just to keep the resume fresh.
Cut down that Net big guy 3️⃣3️⃣☘️☘️🏀☘️☘️ pic.twitter.com/Dr1vYMSFPI— Mercyhurst Men's Basketball (@HurstMBBall) March 20, 2019
But for now, he takes the long bus ride back to the Mercyhurst gym. The gym in which he can watch the first-ever Atlantic Region champion banner finally be hung. And know that he was a big part of that.
“I think the relationship I have with Coach Manchel is what makes this special,” Smith said. “I’m happy for me, but I’m more happy that I was a part of this with him. Just like the Hounds believed in me, he told me we could go far. I think everybody has those insecurities and doubts themselves. But he’s believed in me more than I believed in myself. I’m so happy for him.”