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

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

He had other offers, but his perspective had changed. His family, more important to him now, had been living in Europe for 10 years and he appreciated the sacrifices they had made to support his career. Moreover, he couldn’t play with the same anger and intensity as he had before. He knew his pro basketball career was over.

“I never figured out how to play after I was baptized,” Smith said.

A year after the baptism, the Smith family was sealed together in the Bountiful Temple by Elder Holland, who didn’t know Mitch’s history, but who had followed his career at the University of Utah.

That sealing was a very sweet experience, as sealings always are, but this was special because I had always thought so highly of Mitch,” Elder Holland said. “I’m an old basketball player of sorts myself, so I was very impressed by him when he played at the U. … I thought of him as just the kind of guy we always want at BYU. … I was proud to do it.”

After returning to the Salt Lake area, Smith spent nine years coaching the girls basketball team at Woods Cross High, including two daughters. Since 2010, he has worked as a salesman for Otis Elevators and currently serves as the ward mission leader in his North Salt Lake Ward. As part of his missionary effort, he created a profile to share his story on Mormon.org. The Smith family has also performed the temple work for Mitch's mother, who died a few years ago.

A powerful change

Those who knew the old Mitch Smith still marvel at how he has changed. The first time he went to the temple, Smith bumped into a former BYU opponent who was clearly alarmed to see him there.

"He said I was the last person he ever thought he would see in the temple," Smith said, laughing. "It was a slam, like there’s no way you should be in here kind of thing."

Josh Grant said he practically fell out of his chair when he learned that Smith was a Mormon. Grant credits Cindy for standing firm and never compromising who she was.

“Every time I see him I still laugh,” said Grant, who now works as a fundraiser for the University of Utah’s College of Engineering. “Miracles are miracles. I don’t know how you distinguish one being greater than the rest, but the miracle of Mitch Smith’s conversion is equal to or as great as any conversion of a Hell’s Angel. It really is miraculous what he has been through and the change that has occurred.”

Elder Holland said Smith’s story illustrates that Heavenly Father is the ultimate strategist because he puts people exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there, to accomplish his purposes. Smith’s story is also an example of the need for more understanding, compassion and determination in seeing the good in people, which leads to finding common ground and friendship.

“There can be the tendency to jump to hasty judgments on both sides. This ought to be avoided,” Elder Holland said. “Mitch’s story is an example of patience, kindness and thoughtfulness, with basic courtesy and faith winning out in the end.”

Smith joked that he would lose his “street cred” by telling his conversion story, but never hesitated in sharing his experiences. He is grateful for the blessings and people who have influenced his life, especially his friend and former coach, the late Lynn Archibald.

“People say if I had played for (Rick) Majerus I would have made it to the NBA,” he said. “I’ll take what Archibald gave me any day of the week over the NBA.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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