One of Barry Smith’s most prized possessions is a photo of himself from his playing days at SIU in Carbondale. In that captured moment, Barry soars above the court, escorting the ball to the rim. He makes it look effortless as he rises above the defenseless opponent below—an opponent by the name of Larry Bird.
“Yeah, not many people have a photo like this one,” he smiles.
Before Barry came to Paducah, before he became Director of Wealth Management at Paducah Bank, Barry was a star Saluki at SIU. “I grew up in Eldorado, Illinois,” he says, “and was blessed to be around some other guys there who were really good at basketball. And my brother, who is two years older than me, was an all-state player and all that kind of stuff. So in my early days back home, I learned a lot.”
Being a kid in a small town in the 70s, Barry says, meant a lot of time practicing. “There really wasn’t much else to do,” he says. “I started outside at the playgrounds, and of course I was in competition with my brother, so that spurred me on. And then there were coaches who gave me a lot of encouragement. We had some great players on our team in school, and we got noticed.” And it didn’t hurt that Barry eventually grew to stand 6’6”. His junior and senior years, he helped lead his team to two state championship appearances.
After high school, Barry earned a scholarship at SIU where he played all four years, starting every game his last three years. His freshman year, SIU finished ranked in the top 25 of the nation. “And I ended up playing against a lot of great players,” says Barry, “most notably against Larry Bird, several times, as his team, Indiana State, was in our conference.” Bird would later go on to a storied career with the Boston Celtics, becoming one of the biggest, all-time stars of the NBA. He still ranks at number 10 in the list of the 50 greatest.
“Even if you play against a guy like Larry Bird, you have to believe you can compete and win when you step on the court,” says Barry. “When I got out there, I become a different person with a different mentality. I consider myself a friendly guy, but on the court, I had no friends. You have to develop that competitive nature.”
It was the SIU team’s belief in themselves that almost handed Bird and Indiana State a shocking loss in 1979. Indiana State had won every game by February of that year, but SIU was undaunted. They’d defeated Indiana State just a year prior when Bird’s team was ranked No. 4 in the nation. That night in February, however, destiny was on Bird’s side. Indiana State squeaked out a one-point victory and went undefeated until the national championship game when they fell to Magic Johnson-led Michigan State.
“Forty years later, when I go to up to SIU, that’s what people want to talk about—those games,” says Barry. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, I was there at this game or that game.’ I laugh because I think there’s probably not enough room in the arena for all those who’ve told me they were at those games. But I’ll never quite lose that, especially if I’m up in southern Illinois. Basketball is what I’m asked about the most.
Barry loves the memories and cherishes where his work on the court has brought him. “Basketball provided me with an education,” he says. “It got me to SIU where I met my wife. It has opened doors with different people. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I was on a high school team with a lot of talent and a coach who knew what it took to take us to the next level. I learned the value of work, and it prepared for me for a lot of things. All of those experiences were priceless.”