From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Smith, Sam

(born: January 27, 1944  -  died: May 19, 2022) 

Sam Smith was born in Hazard, KY, the son of Van C. and Myrtle A. Olinger Smith. A 6'7" guard/forward, he played high school basketball in Hazard and in 1962 became one of the first three African American basketball players recruited by the University of Louisville (U of L). (The other two players were Eddie Whitehead and Wade Houston.) Freshmen were not eligible to play on the varsity team, so the three had to wait until their sophomore year to get playing time. Of the three, Smith was the first to play in a game and the first African American starter in 1964. Academic problems for Smith at U of L led him to transfer to Kentucky Wesleyan College (KWC) in 1964.

In 1966, the KWC basketball team won its first College Division National Championship [now the NCAA Division II Championship]. Smith played in the ABA from 1968-1971 with the Minnesota Muskies, Kentucky Colonels, and Utah Stars, playing in 255 games and scoring 2,097 points. Smith was a member of the Utah Stars 1971 ABA Championship team that defeated the Kentucky Colonels. He was picked by the Atlanta Hawks in the 3rd round of the NBA draft in 1977. Smith played for two seasons in the NBA, first with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 1978-1979 season, then with the Chicago Bulls for the 1979-1980 season. During those two years, he saw action in 46 games and scored 315 points.

For more see the Commerce Cabinet Press release by Billy Reed dated 02/21/05, "Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch Represents Pinnacle of Proud African-American Athletic Tradition at U of L: Cards a Leader in Integrating Southern Sports"; and Sam Smith at


Kentucky County & Region

Read about Perry County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Daviess County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Hazard, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Owensboro, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Houston, Allan W., Sr.

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry: Kentucky High School Athletic Association Tournament, After Integration, 1957-1963

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Smith, Sam,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-05-31 18:58:11