Last week, the annual Central Intercollegiate Association (CIAA) Tournament took place in Charlotte, N.C. In the midst of the highly anticipated basketball event, Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) graduate and First Take featured commentator Stephen A. Smith was inducted into the John B. McLendon CIAA Hall of Fame. The CIAA recognizes inductees for their excellence in the conference, significant contributions to the community, leadership in CIAA sports and commitment to the CIAA mission.
Stephen A. spoke to fellow Rams alum, and ESPN associate producer, Cornell Jones before both of them traveled to the Queen City.
As a student at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), which also produced Basketball Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, did you ever think you would be inducted into the conference’s Hall of Fame?
Never. . . not in my lifetime. I’m honored and incredibly touched, but if I’m being totally honest I really don’t think I deserve it. I guess they [CIAA] want to commend me for my accomplishments in the industry, but as far as I’m concerned I’m not finished. . . I’m just getting started. I made a promise to my coach [Basketball Hall of Famer Clarence “Big House” Gaines] that I would not forget what he did for me and all he ever asked in return is that I never forget WSSU. I’m paying an eternal debt to him for giving me some of the greatest years of my life and for being that father figure he was to me.
How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of your former coach?
I don’t consider myself walking in his footsteps. I think he was just so tremendous on so many levels. I can only hope to be a portion of him someday. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for the greatest woman in the world, my mother, and the man she sent me down to at Winston-Salem State. Clarence “Big House” Gaines always espoused wisdom to me, held me accountable and always reminded me that the world didn’t owe me anything. The very tenets that leads to one being successful in this world is something Coach Gaines preached constantly, and when I say constantly I mean constantly. If you want to call it walking in his footsteps, I understand it. . . I appreciate it. I need people to know that I never look at it that way. I’m just someone trying to live up to be the kind of man he thought I could be.
There is a custom authentic Stephen A. Smith WSSU jersey on social media. Students are in love with it. How does it feel to have the respect of not only your generation but the current class of Rams?
He [DJ Trellz] probably broke more of a sweat with the jersey than I ever did [laughs]. It means a great deal to me because I take it as a badge of honor with a tremendous level of pride when people are looking up to me. I’m trying to set an example; I’m not perfect and make mistakes like everybody else. I understand that I’m human, but my heart is in the right place. I’m not one who wants to achieve success alone and be at the top of the mountain, figuratively speaking, by myself. I want to grab as many people as possible and lift them along the way. If you’re successful all by yourself what kind of fun is that? That’s not what this is about and more importantly doesn’t fulfill the promise I made to Clarence “Big House” Gaines.
Have you ever thought of doing an episode of First Take on the campus of WSSU?
We intend to, sometime in the future. I don’t know when but it’s definitely something we are going to do. I plan on going to HBCUs and there’s no way it’s not going to be my institution. Winston-Salem State is definitely going to be the top priority.
First Take airs weekdays live from 10 a.m.-noon ET on ESPN.