An unlikely Mormon: Former U. basketball star shares conversion story

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

“I hated snow, I hated Mormons, but there was something different and genuine about this guy,” Smith said. “I came to Utah because of Archibald.”

Marrying a Mormon

During his freshman year, Smith was at a dance club when he met an attractive blonde named Cindy Kilpack. He asked her out.

“Of course, she was a Mormon,” Smith said.

Initially, their courtship was a rocky one because they kept breaking up. She was reluctant to date him because of his contrasting standards and religious views, but as they continued to see one another, she discovered a different side of him.

“He had a tough upbringing, a hard mentality for sports that made him so hard on the outside, but he was so tender and sweet on the inside that I knew there was a chance," Cindy Smith said. "But I didn’t think it would take 10 years.”

Despite warnings from some of Smith’s friends who claimed she would leave him if he didn’t get baptized, Mitch and Cindy were married at the end of his sophomore year. They asked 3rd Circuit Judge Paul Grant, the father of Utah teammate Josh Grant, to perform the wedding.

“We found the perfect guy to marry us. He was a judge and an LDS bishop,” Smith said. “We told my parents he was a judge and we told her parents he was a bishop.”

They were man and wife now, but there were still major differences to resolve.

Within days of their wedding, Smith went out with his buddies and came home intoxicated. Cindy responded by locking him out of their apartment.

“She wasn’t used to that,” Smith said. “That was her first realization that life was going to be more exciting for her.”

While Cindy admits she was a little naïve, her husband’s behavior wasn’t anything new to her. She was raised in a broken home of divorced parents and alcoholism, and didn’t want that for her family. She insisted on some strict rules that Mitch quickly learned to respect.

“There were some pretty hard times,” Cindy said. “I know those experiences (growing up) prepared me.”

Fierce competitor

Despite his personal challenges off the court, Smith thrived on the court. He was consistently among the team leaders in scoring and rebounding at Utah and made the all-conference team as a sophomore, junior and senior.

Although he only played in the NCAA tournament once, his career numbers at Utah are still among the best in the school record books. In addition to top-10 marks in rebounding, blocked shots and minutes played, Smith is currently in 10th place on the Utes' all-time scoring list with 1,628 points, right behind Tom Chambers and just ahead of Andre Miller and Nick Jacobsen.

Smith’s success came as a result of his style of play, according to Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson.

“He hustles, he works, he’s silent, he’s all business, he’s blue collar, he’s unspectacular, he’s anything but colorful or cocky,” Robinson wrote in 1989.

“I’m a garbage player,” Smith said in the same article.

Jeff Chatman, a former Cougar forward who battled against Smith for three years, said Smith was a fierce competitor who never backed down from an opponent.

“We didn’t like each other at all, but I loved to play against him. It was all-out war. We would go back and forth, jawing at each other for most of the game, but it was respectful,” Chatman said. “If you gave him a body shot to keep him off the boards, you knew he would come back at you. He would not be intimidated.”

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