Published: Jan. 4, 2001


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PORTLAND, Ore. - NBA All-Star and former Michigan State University All-American Steve Smith announced today a "gift of opportunity" for students from Detroit Pershing High School: $600,000 to endow a four-year scholarship that will bring one student each year to MSU on what is typically called a "full ride."

The Smith Scholarship, though, is not for athletes. It pays tuition, fees, books, and room and board for high-achieving students who might otherwise be unable to come to MSU - offering them, he says, the same opportunity given scholarship athletes to excel at a university.

Smith, an All-Star guard with the Portland Trail Blazers, 2000 Olympian and 1987 Pershing High graduate, joined his wife, Millie, in establishing the endowment. Smith now has donated more than $3.1 million to MSU, a record among professional athletes contributing to their alma mater. He and Millie previously donated $2.5 million to establish the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center and a scholarship for Pershing students.

"MSU and the scholarship both are about great opportunity: the opportunity to succeed," said Smith, who specifically designated the gift for non-athletes. "It has been said that sometimes MSU recruits champions, and sometimes it creates them. That's as true in the classroom as it is on the court. It's one of the things that make MSU a university of opportunity for so many people.

"That's why I believe that, although we are announcing today a gift to the university, this really is a gift to the students. It's a gift to Detroit and to Pershing High. It's a gift that expresses my devotion and commitment to providing an opportunity for young people to succeed.

"And it is a gift that allows me to pay respect to my departed mother. My mother strongly believed in higher education, and in the world that it could open for young people."

Smith, a first-round NBA draft pick of the Miami Heat in 1991, announced his initial gift in January of 1997. That gift was made in honor of his mother, Clara Bell, who died in February of 1992 - Smith's rookie NBA season.

With him today at the Portland, Ore., press conference to announce the endowment of the scholarship was the 2000-2001 recipient of the Smith scholarship, LaTonja Johnson.

"It's an honor to be attending MSU in the name of Steve Smith," said Johnson, currently an MSU freshman. "I'm very appreciative of this scholarship, which is so beneficial to me. Without it, I would not have been able to attend MSU."

The additional $600,000 to fully endow the Steve Smith Endowed Scholarship for Detroit Pershing High School at MSU provides in perpetuity full scholarships for at least one Pershing High graduate each year. Once the program is fully in place, at least four Smith scholars will always be on the MSU campus.

"Steve obviously has such deep appreciation for those who helped him succeed as a young person," MSU President Peter McPherson said. "He and Millie show time and again that helping those in need is important to them, and MSU truly appreciates it as I'm sure the students, teachers and administrators at Pershing do."

Today's press conference included Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the NBA Russell T. Granik. A simultaneous announcement in East Lansing, linked to Portland via satellite, included Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, MSU Provost Lou Anna K. Simon and MSU head Basketball Coach Tom Izzo. Also in East Lansing was Pershing High School Principal Emeral A. Crosby, who brought 100 students to hear the announcement.

"The students of Pershing High School have in Steve and Millie Smith benefactors who have created, for those who represent today's land-grant scholars, an opportunity for a high-quality college education," MSU Provost Lou Anna K. Simon said. "Not only will they and their school benefit directly from the generosity of Steve and Millie, but MSU benefits as well because our academic community is enriched by these students with talent and a dedication to learning."

Smith, MSU's second all-time leading scorer with 2,263 career points, is in his 10th NBA season and second with the Portland Trail Blazers. In the summer of 2000, Smith won an Olympic gold medal as part of the U.S. men's basketball "Dream Team" lineup.

Smith's success on the court, Izzo said, will continue to draw attention to his off-court commitment to excellence.

"Steve is a great ambassador for MSU, the NBA and the game of basketball," Izzo said. "Because of his generosity, countless students will have a chance to attend MSU and excel in the classroom - and in life.

"Steve understands the importance of leaving a legacy not only on the basketball court, but in his community. He has enhanced the image of basketball in high school, college and the NBA. His appearance in the 2000 Olympics gave the whole world a chance to see what we in Michigan already know: He is an exceptional player, and an exceptional person."