WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Sports personality and Winston-Salem State University alum Stephen A. Smith brought his sports debate show “First Take” to campus on Tuesday.
Before the show began, Stephen A. spoke glowingly about the time he spent at WSSU and of his coach, Basketball Hall of Famer Clarence “Big House” Gaines.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it were not for Winston-Salem State University and certainly specifically because of Clarence ‘Big House’ Gaines,” Smith said. “He’s like a father to me.”
Earlier in the week, Stephen A. sat down with FOX8 and mentioned the mission that Coach Gaines gave him.
“All the man ever asked of me was to make sure that I never forgot Winston-Salem-State and never forgot HBCUs and that I would do what I could to uplift and really, really carry the mantle of really bringing attention and notoriety to HBCUs. And that’s what I’ve strived to have done,” Smith said. “That’s where my focus has lied ever since I arrived. It was Winston-Salem State, and Clarence ‘Big House’ Gaines had a lot to do with that.”
Gaines, who died in 2005, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and coached the WSSU Men’s Basketball Team from 1946-1993. He won an NCAA Championship in 1967 and coached Stephen A. when he played basketball for the Rams.
“What an iconic figure,” Smith said of Gaines. “He won a national championship in the late 60s with Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe and played an instrumental role in integrating the sport of basketball.”
Stephen A. also recalled the struggles he faced while at WSSU after he injured his knee and was unable to play a substantial role on the court for the Rams.
“I remember limping around campus on my crutches taking 18 credits,” Smith said. “I was working at the Salvation Army from 7:30 to 4:30 every day and then I would race to Kernersville to work unloading trucks from 4:30 to 9:30 every night during the summer time.”
The entire First Take crew was in attendance in front of a packed house of WSSU students at the appropriately named C.E. Gaines Center for the live taping of the show.
Stephen A. debated Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe on several sports topics in front of a raucous crowd. Including of course some good natured-ribbing at the Dallas Cowboys.
The Winston-Salem State Powerhouse of Red & White Powerhouse was in attendance, as well as the Men’s Basketball Team, Women’s Basketball Team and Football Team.