William “Beaver” Smith was 6-4 but played even bigger than that in a decorated high school and college career.
Smith, an All-Long Island basketball player for South Side High School who also played four years for St. John’s University, died Monday morning of heart failure. He was 63.
“He was one of the Island’s best ever,” said Frank Alagia, who grew up with Smith in Rockville Center and played with him at St. John’s. “I knew him for 50 years. We drove to school together every day. We never had an argument. He was very humble and a great teammate.”
The Rockville Center product led the Cyclones to a county basketball title in both 1971 and 1972 and earned all-Long Island honors as a senior.
Smith then moved on to St. John’s, where he played from 1972 to 1976, and is 18th on the program’s rebounding list with 717. Smith also scored 1,047 points to rank 46th.
“He could jump as high as he needed,” Alagia said. “His wingspan and his reach were great.”
He averaged 13.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his senior season, helping St. John’s make the NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the first round to Bob Knight’s 32-0 Indiana team.
Smith also reached the tournament in his freshman season in 1973 under coach Frank Mulzoff. He played his final three seasons with coach Lou Carnesecca, whose teams made the NIT in both 1974 and 1975.
“We were in so many battles and I always knew he would be there,” Alagia said. “He was a great defender and a great teammate because he was so unselfish.”
Referee Roger Glazer told Newsday in 2009 that Smith was one of the best high school players he ever officiated. “He jumped to the moon,” Glazer said. “He was a dominating high school player and athletic. He was about 6-4 but played like he was 6-10.”
He was drafted by the Knicks in the fifth round of the 1976 NBA Draft but did not play in the league.
He is survived by his wife, Heidi, and daughters Liza and Shilean.
Memorial services will be held at Freedom Chapel at 641 Broadway in Amityville on Thursday at 7 p.m., according to the St. John’s athletics website.