Former ASU graduate and athletic trainer Casey Smith was a part of history this summer in Beijing.
Smith, 39, served as the trainer for the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s basketball team at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Smith’s career as a trainer began in 1987 in a student program at ASU.
“Doing that at such a young age prepares you for things later on,” he said. “You don’t realize at the time how much you’re learning.”
After Smith graduated from ASU in 1992, he earned his master’s degree from West Virginia University in 1994.
Smith made his return to Tempe when the ASU men’s basketball team was looking for an athletic trainer in 1997.
His mentor, Terry Edinger, was the head athletic trainer at ASU.
“He drove us to be the best we could be and [to] be confident and set ourselves up to succeed,” Smith said.
Edinger’s advice was prophetic. Opportunities for success came in bunches after he left the Sun Devils’ staff.
Smith said he always pictured himself working at the college level but he could not turn down the assistant trainer position with the nearby Phoenix Suns of the NBA in 2000.
“There was an opportunity with the Suns … and I took advantage of it,” he said.
Smith’s next suitor proved to be the Dallas Mavericks when he became the head trainer in 2004, a position he still holds.
During his off-seasons, Smith worked for the U.S. Olympic Committee and is a member of the Professional Advisory Board for the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
He was the athletic trainer for the U.S. men’s boxing team during the 2004 Games in Athens.
In 2006, Smith found himself back on the hard court.
Before he arrived, U.S. basketball was in a state of decline. Director Jerry Colangelo assembled a team and coaching staff in hopes of returning to dominance. Smith’s new job was to keep the stars healthy.
“It’s a little mind-boggling at times,” he said. “Out of all the people they could have selected, they picked me.”
After disappointing play on the national stage, the “redeem team” completely dominated the in Beijing.
Smith saw the turnaround firsthand.
“You could see how hard they worked and how serious they took it,” he said.
But the team wasn’t always so focused. Smith said LeBron James always lightened the mood around the team.
“He’s always giving people a hard time,” he said. “He can mimic people pretty good.”
Smith also shares a long-term friendship with Jason Kidd, dating back to his days with the Suns.
The players told Smith they felt like they were the Beatles, with the worldwide spotlight surrounding them.
“It was amazing how popular these guys were,” Smith said, “Every time the bus pulled up or anytime they were in the airport, it was just a mob scene of people trying to touch them.”
For Smith, the coaches and players, all ended well. Though he did not receive a medal, Smith recalled the players taking the podium to receive theirs.
“When they all stepped up to the podium in unison and they played the national anthem … in athletics, that’s as good as it gets.”
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