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Then and Now: Former EWU Eagle Gregg Smith

Gregg Smith, the big 6-foot 10 center, was part of the team from EWU that went to the NCAA's in 2004.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gregg Smith, the big 6-foot 10 center, was part of the team from EWU that went to the NCAA's in 2004. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gregg Smith has been called a lot of things over the years.

During his playing career on Eastern Washington University’s basketball team, the 6-foot-10, 280-pound Smith had the nickname “Hoss” and often strolled around campus in cowboy boots. He sported a mullet his sophomore season and fans from opposing teams were quick to offer opinions of his hair style.

In his final game, Smith scored 16 points – his career high versus a Division I opponent – in a 2004 NCAA tournament loss to second-seeded Oklahoma State. Smith was honored as EWU’s Chevrolet Player of the Game, and the nickname “CPOG” was born.

“Someone just called me that a couple weeks ago,” Smith said. “I’ve definitely been called worse.”

Here’s another thing you can call Smith: Hall of Famer.

He was recently inducted into Cottage Grove High School’s Hall of Fame. Smith grew up in Cottage Grove, Ore., which is roughly 20 miles from Eugene. He split time between JV and varsity as a sophomore. By his junior year, he sprouted to 6-10. As a senior, he averaged nearly 20 points and blocked 101 shots in 25 games.

Smith’s parents still live in Cottage Grove and Smith’s wife, Julie, and their three children attended the ceremony.

Smith’s prep success caught the eye of then-Gonzaga assistant coach Bill Grier, who is also a Cottage Grove High graduate. Grier mentioned Smith’s name to Ray Giacoletti, who was coaching at North Dakota State. It was a good fit: Giacoletti needed a big man and Smith wanted to study agriculture.

Following Smith’s freshman season, Giacoletti accepted the head coaching job at EWU and Smith followed him to Cheney. He shifted his educational focus from agriculture to becoming a teacher. On the court, Smith was an important role player on EWU teams that broke new ground.

The Eagles had a string of frustrating runner-up finishes in the Big Sky Conference, including one in 2003 that ended in the NIT, EWU’s first postseason tournament appearance since joining NCAA Division I in 1983.

The Eagles broke through the following year, defeating Northern Arizona 71-59 in front of 4,615 at Reese Court to capture the Big Sky tournament title and the school’s first NCAA tournament berth.

“It was a big affirmation for all the hard work we put in,” said Smith, who chipped in six points and four rebounds.

Smith typically played 9 to 13 minutes per game and averaged 3.4 points over three seasons. Most Big Sky teams had smaller, more agile posts, which made for challenging matchups.

“You just try to stay positive toward your teammates and encourage them and try to be ready when your name is called,” Smith said.

He stayed the course, worked on his game and finished his career with a bang. He made all six of his shots and scored 12 points as EWU battled Oklahoma State to a tie score at the half. Smith played a season-high 23 minutes and finished with 16 points with his parents in the crowd at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., but the Cowboys pulled away for a 75-56 win.

“It’s a great example of somebody who is a true team player, a great teammate that kept working hard through adversity and at the end got rewarded,” Giacoletti said.

Smith has been teaching in Cheney for five years. He coaches football and baseball at the middle school and is a varsity assistant for the Shadle Park boys basketball team. Julie coaches volleyball at Medical Lake.

“We’re a little busy,” said Smith, who would like to be a head coach someday.

He looks back on his EWU career with “a lot of smiles. It was great being part of a team, having that camaraderie and working hard and seeing it pay off.”