When Lisa Smith was a kid growing up in Hempstead as a basketball prodigy, she took her talents to . . . the boys team.
“There were no youth basketball teams for girls,” Smith said, “so I ended up playing with the boys. And that’s where I honed my skills.”
It was quite the skill set. Smith, a 1983 graduate of Hempstead High School, dazzled and dominated for four varsity seasons, scoring what was then a state-record 2,418 points, leading the Tigers to a 92-3 record with four Nassau titles, two state championships and one Federation title in 1982.
Her accomplishments were recognized Tuesday when she was one of 29 people inducted into the fourth class of the Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame at a ceremony at NYCB Live Nassau Coliseum.
“I was the first girl to play on the Salvation Army boys travel team,” Smith recalled, a feat that was acknowledged by her old coach, Don Ryan, a longtime Hempstead High School supporter and historian who currently is the Mayor of Hempstead. Ryan, already in the Nassau Hall of Fame, attended Tuesday’s event. “Now, women’s basketball has grown tremendously and I’m a huge WNBA fan.”
The WNBA did not exist after Smith graduated from St. John’s after a four-year college career that began with two years at the University of Mississippi before she transferred back home to get her degree in Criminal Justice. “The WNBA,” she said with a wistful smile. “That would’ve been for me. Oh yes, I definitely would’ve wanted to play pro ball. But it just didn’t come around at the time I was playing ball. It just wasn’t in the cards for me at that time.”
Smith was not bitter, just reflective and gracious. She pointed at the other inductees, saying, “There’s greatness in this room. I’m honored to be recognized after so many years. I don’t regret the way things happened. Maybe I paved the way for the Sue Wicks’s and Sue Birds who paved the way for the next generation. There were a lot of women before me that didn’t even have the opportunities I had. I was able to receive a full scholarship and I didn’t have to pay for my education.”
She easily summoned up sweet memories of her basketball days. “Back then, they didn’t have a three-point line, and my godfather, Don Ryan, said I probably would’ve scored 4,000 points,” Smith, a flashy 5-8 guard, said with a knowing smile. “I had an inside game and I had an outside game.”
And she had a powerful team, coached by the iconic Ollie Mills. During one stretch of her career, they won 52 straight games. “We had quite a run. We didn’t even know how to lose,” said Smith, who currently stands fifth on the all-time Long Island girls basketball scoring list.
Smith retired nine years ago from the New York City Department of Corrections and now owns her own cleaning company. And, she proudly added, “I’m the mother of one daughter, and that’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life.”
A Hall of Fame life, indeed.
The Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame
Class of 2018
Football coach, Massapequa, Lawrence.
Basketball coach, Valley Stream North, Jericho.
Wrestling coach, Massapequa.
Colbert Britt, Jr.
Football and track coach, Malverne.
Basketball player, Long Beach.
Tom Casey Sr.
Football, basketball and basketball player; baseball and football coach, Great Neck.
Cross-country and track athlete, Mepham.
Football and lacrosse coach, Garden City.
Athlete, coach and official, Valley Stream Central.
Tennis player, Garden City.
Wrestling coach, Long Beach.
Basketball and football coach, Levittown Division.
Soccer, basketball, softball coach and athletic director, Port Washington.
Track coach, Uniondale.
Football, basketball, track and lacrosse player, Hempstead.
Baseball and basketball coach, New Hype Park
Lacrosse coach, Manhasset and Elmont.
Football, basketball, baseball, wrestling athlete, Baldwin.
Football, lacrosse player, Sewanhaka.
Football, lacrosse player; lacrosse coach, Sewanhaka.
Swim coach, Uniondale
Field hockey coach, administrator, Cold Spring Harbor.
Basketball player, Hempstead
Basketball player, South Side.
Swimming and diving coach, Garden City.
Softball umpire, volleyball and basketball official.
Football player, Sewanhaka
Football, basketball, baseball and track athlete, Baldwin.