No men’s basketball coach has won more games in his first four seasons at Columbia than Kyle Smith. It sounds surprising since Columbia has been playing basketball for over a century. But with 61 wins since taking the helm in 2010, Smith joins legendary Light Blue coach Lou Rossini tied atop that particular list.
To be fair, Rossini posted a much better winning percentage in his first four seasons on campus. He went 61-34. Smith has gone 61-57.
So maybe Smith isn’t the most prolific winner in the program’s history. Nonetheless, 61 wins at an Ivy League school is nothing to sneeze at—and this season was Smith’s finest coaching yet.
Smith recruited all but two players on the team. This edition of the Light Blue finished 19-12 overall and third in the Ivy League with an impressive 8-6 conference record.
He installed a new motion-based offense this season, but months into the experiment, Smith made another change. He moved junior forward Alex Rosenberg into the starting lineup in mid-December, and the Lion offense soared from then on.
Consider that Columbia averaged nearly 112 points per 100 possessions after Rosenberg became a starter. That is nearly a 10-point improvement from the Lions’ mark of 102 points per 100 possessions during the first 13 games of the season with Rosenberg coming off the bench.
Rosenberg, in the process, emerged as a likely first team All-Ivy selection. The junior forward led the Lions in scoring with 16.2 points per game and became a vastly more efficient offensive player in almost every facet. Compared to his sophomore year, Rosenberg posted a higher two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, and free throw percentage.
A lot of Rosenberg’s improvement resulted from his own development. Simply put: He became a better basketball player. But it was Kyle Smith who allowed Rosenberg to thrive, as his offense called for the junior forward to control more possessions and take more shots.
When sophomore guard Grant Mullins went down on the road against Princeton, Smith did not allow the Lions to skip a beat, either. Without pause, the Light Blue adjusted to fill the large gap left by Mullins’ absence.
Maodo Lo shifted from the shooting guard position to assume most of Mullins’ point guard duties. Meanwhile, Kyle Smith looked to less heralded names like Meiko Lyles and Steve Frankoski to fill Lo’s old shoes.
Although Lyles and Frankoski had seen limited minutes up to that point in the season, both guards provided the Lions with tremendous court spacing and outside shooting.
Lyles, largely known for his prowess from beyond the arc, even sank the game-winning three-pointer at Jadwin Gymnasium in the very game that Mullins suffered his concussion.
Frankoski returned from a broken wrist to spark the offense at points throughout the latter half of Ivy play, including a 17-point outburst against Yale.
In total, Columbia won six of its final eight league games after Mullins’ injury, to finish third in the Ivy standings. Only Yale and Harvard had better conference records! But it is not an indictment of Mullins, who should return as the starting point guard next season, that the Lions learned to thrive without him. Rather, it is a testament to the team, which could have let injuries get in its way for the second year in a row, but didn't.
And the guy who put the team together—Kyle Smith.
Daniel Radov is a Columbia College first-year. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR and an associate sports editor for Spectator.