Kroner: Urbana fixture Smith set to join IBCA Hall of Fame

URBANA — Bob Smith has a common name but an uncommon connection to sports.

He soon will be in one Hall of Fame and could well have association with another in the future.

The veteran Urbana High School boys' basketball scorekeeper will be enshrined into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on April 28 in Normal.

His day job is what could eventually get him connected to another Hall of Fame. Smith is a sports agent, representing about 80 clients. All are in baseball.

One played in the 2011 World Series.

Another played in the 2010 All-Star Game.

Some day, one — or more — might wind up in Cooperstown.

Starting local

The 40th anniversary of the first basketball game Smith attended in person will take place two weeks from today.

"It was an Illinois game," Smith said. "I was 8."

His father, Richard, bought him a program, but the youngster made no marks on the scoresheet.

Smith waited until the following November for that.

"The first entry in my first scorebook was Illinois at Arizona, Nov. 20, 1973," Smith said. "The first play of the game, Rick Schmidt hit a bomb — this was before the three-point shot — but it didn't count. He was standing out of bounds.

"Illinois lost 101-80."

The 9-year-old was literally starting to make his mark in the sport.

"I dove in right away," Smith said. "I couldn't wait for a game to be scored."

Off days are minimal

In his estimation, he's closing in on 4,700 career games that he has scored.

"The first 2,000, I kept the score, the date and the leading scorer (on a separate record sheet)," he said, "but I haven't kept that up."

He has three filing cabinets — each with three drawers — filled with scorebooks and programs.

Smith recently bought his 175th scorebook.

"The first one cost $1.95," he said. "The last one was $10."

He scores an average of 125 games a year. Most are varsity or sophomore games for Urbana, his high school alma mater, though he also does freshman games for the school.

If the Tigers have a day off, Smith tries to avoid sitting idly.

"I've scored every Illinois (men's) game the last three seasons," he said, "even if I was watching on TV.

"It keeps me sharp."

Three decades with UHS

Smith got his foot in the door with Urbana District 116 at an early age.

"I started at Brookens (as a ninth-grader) for a team that was 0-23," Smith said. "The other junior high in town (Fisher) was 2-21, with both wins against us."

He kept stats as a sophomore at Urbana, but as a class officer during his junior and senior years he was often obligated to work in the concession stand. He found enough time, however, as a senior to chart rebounds.

"That year (1982) was the highest rebounding game I've seen in person," Smith said. "Eric Smith (ex-Tiger who is no relation) had 23."

Bob Smith became well-known to school administrators for his passion for stats and his trustworthiness.

"The following year, Oscar Adams (UHS athletic director) called and said Joe Lamb was retiring (as scorekeeper) and could I score some games," Bob Smith said.

This season marks his 30th year following the Tigers, not only at home but also to most of the road games.

Smith is not planning on retiring any time soon from his duties as a basketball scorekeeper.

"The dedication and commitment he has had is amazing," Urbana Principal Laura Taylor said. "There is something about being an Urbana alum, having a sense of pride in what you're doing and being a part of it."

'Pillar in athletic department'

In a manner of speaking, Smith is compensated for a part of his time.

"Urbana pays me for the home games," he said, "and I spend that on gas to the away games."

What impresses school administrators is the commitment Smith has made despite never having a child go through the basketball program.

"He is one of those throwback kind of guys," Urbana athletic director Greg Hall said. "Years ago you used to say everyone pulled their weight and helped contribute to society. As time goes on more and more people do things for their own benefit.

"He does things for the good of the cause. He is willing to help out, and I think it's phenomenal. Bob has been a rock-steady person and a pillar in our athletic department.

"We've done things to honor Bob, and I'm glad this (Hall of Fame) is happening to him and to Kevin Booky last year. Nothing can top this."

Booky is another of Urbana's veteran bench personnel, and he became a member of the IBCA Hall of Fame Class of 2010.

More than a scorekeeper

Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams got to know Smith when he was a basketball coach in the district in the late 1980s. Williams, the last person to coach Urbana to a regional championship in the sport (1988), appreciated how Smith went above and beyond the call of duty.

"Him and (Kevin) Booky would go to all types of games and let you know who would do what," Williams said. "He was very professional.

"He was not a guy who would come up and say, 'Let me tell you how to coach.' He understood decorum and wanted what was right for the kids in the program. He would point out certain things as far as strategies."

One road trip, Smith recalled, was to watch Lincoln, an upcoming Urbana opponent. He reported to Williams that he believed the Railsplitters were susceptible to a press.

Urbana pressed. And won the game.

Expanding the numbers

Smith can easily track his progress as a basketball scorekeeper. During the early years he only charted field goals, free throws, fouls and total points.

"I added shots (attempted) in 1982, rebounds the next year and assists the next year after that," he said.

Eight years ago he decided to include individual turnovers.

"When Mark Bial was coaching, that was one thing he was looking for," Smith said.

He prefers the old-fashioned method of using a pencil and the scorebook.

"I've tried it on a computer," he said, "but I'm better doing it manually. I don't keep it as well when I'm worried what I need to type."

Making a pitch

When not scoring basketball games, Smith used to make his living in academic and choir robe sales as well as computer and cellphone sales.

He is also an ardent baseball fan — "I've scored over 1,000 games," he said — and in 2003 had a cousin (Jentry Beckstead), who was a prospect in the Colorado Rockies' organization.

"I saw him in Tulsa and he mentioned there was no one to represent players drafted after the 10th round," Smith said. "I relayed this to a friend of mine, and we wondered, 'What does it take to start an agency?' "

The requirements were a background check by Major League Baseball and a check for $500.

Shortly later, BFS Limited was in operation. The timing was ideal for Smith.

"I was between cellphone jobs," he said.

Until he was established, Smith continued working in sales and was a part-time agent.

In September 2010, he faced a crossroads. His employer (U.S. Cellular) wanted him to relocate.

Smith, whose father had died in 2004, wanted to remain in the area to stay close to his mother, Lucille, who has had health problems.

Full-time venture

He took a leap of faith and within two years had more than doubled the number of clients he had (35) while working as a part-time agent.

Smith has two partners, who prefer not to be named, each with a 20 percent share of the business. Smith is the majority owner, with a 60 percent stake.

"I have a shoe, glove or batting glove deal for virtually everyone I've got," said Smith, who is now representing 80 professional athletes.

He makes money by receiving a percentage of what he negotiates for the players.

"The standard is 5 to 7 percent," Smith said, "but I've cut as low as 2 1/2 percent to get a major leaguer.

"I learned from my high school math that 2 1/2 percent of a million is more than 10 percent of nothing."

To date, the largest contract Smith and BFS Limited has negotiated was for $6 million.

"That's paying the office lease for five years," he said.

Last week, BFS Limited signed its 80th active player.

Learning experience

One of the things Smith has discovered, he said, is "how cutthroat this business is. One of my players said a certain agent had called him 10 times in the last year."

While he would like to name-drop and reveal some of the most recognizable of his clients, Smith said it wouldn't be prudent to do so with those who are still active.

"In eight years I've never lost a client to another agent," Smith said, "but because of the highly competitive nature I'm reluctant to talk about names."

The lifelong Cubs fan confirmed he has at least one rostered player from that organization.

One of Smith's memorable conversations with a client (who is now retired) occurred during the 2009 season when a pitcher he represented, David Patton, appeared in 20 games for the Cubs.

At the end of last season, 14 of Smith's clients were playing in the major leagues. If all goes well in spring training, he believes as many as 19 could be on various 25-man rosters this year, including one as a coach.

"We recently branched off into coaches," Smith said.

Exemplary service record

His staff is relatively small. Smith and his administrative assistant are the only full-timers. The partners are part time, and Smith added, "We have an accountant on retainer, with 24/7 access."

Smith believes his hands-on approach is one reason he has kept the clients he started with.

"I try to talk to my clients at least once a month," he said. "Word has gotten around that we take care of our guys.

"We do a lot of things. If they're transferred in the middle of the year we make sure they have housing and arrange travel for the family. We won't pay for it, but we do the arrangements."

Smith said the reputation of his business is a top priority and — even given the chance — there are some individuals he would decline to represent.

"I'm selective," he said. "I don't want to represent a Milton Bradley."

Smith's agency has built a favorable reputation with players and owners.

"Our philosophy is to negotiate incentive-based contracts," Smith said. "The players like us because if they produce they get more. The owners like us because they won't pay huge amounts up front."

Starting small

Smith was a journalism major in college. "I had no business classes," he said.

Entering the high-stakes athletic arena as an agent was a daunting task.

"I didn't know what I was doing when I got started," he said. "Then, it was by word of mouth. We started with two AA prospects. We didn't have the resources to scout in person and get people in the minors."

There's no substitute for hard work and not overlooking any potential contact.

"I tell people the key to my success is my network," Smith said. "It's not necessarily a baseball network. I've gotten leads from an 87-year-old choir-robe salesman, which panned out, and from tailgate buddies, former cell phone co-workers and college buddies."

Smith has not yet represented a first-round draft pick, though he thought he was close in 2011 with Mikie Mahtook, a former Louisiana State player who played for the Danville Dans in a summer collegiate league and was the 31st player picked in last year's draft.

"Both of our moms were from Lafayette (La.), and knew each other, and I thought we had a shot," Smith said. "We will have a first-rounder in the not-too-distant future."

On-the-job training

BFS Limited also became certified by the NFL 18 months ago but has yet to expand beyond a baseball clientele.

"I have my hands full with baseball," Smith said. "I've been at this eight years, but I still feel like a rookie. I learn something new about the business every day."

Without adding additional staff, he hopes to keep his client list to 120 or less.

The ultimate irony about Smith's job is how he has fared in his fantasy baseball league.

"I've finished 12th out of 12 teams three of the last four years," he said. "I guess I do a better job rating talent in real life than fantasy."

Better days could be ahead. Last week, Smith made a fantasy trade. He picked up a major leaguer that he represents.

Call that a win-win scenario. Better than trading a player he represents.

As his client roster — and reputation — grows, so do his chances to represent an individual who winds up in baseball's Hall of Fame.

Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at fkroner@news-gazette.com.

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