The 1988-90 Wake Forest Demon Deacons basketball team, with manager Rob Smith seated far right. COURTESY ROB SMITH

It seems fair to say that Dr. Rob Smith knows more about basketball than your average M.D. And most of what he knows he learned not on the court, but off it.

Though obsessed with the sport from an early age, he didn’t play for his high school team nor his college team. 

“I loved basketball so much, but I wasn’t gifted enough physically to play for Wake Forest,” said Smith, a board-certified family medicine specialist, who joined Beaufort Memorial Palmetto Medical Group last fall. 

So he found another way to follow his bliss as an undergraduate at the Division I school.

“I started out as a football manager,” he recalled, thinking back on his freshman year. “That’s how all student managers start out.” 

He worked hard at it, and his hard work paid off. The Wake Forest basketball team’s two student managers were both seniors that year, and they asked Smith to step into their shoes when they graduated. Score!

What did the job entail? What didn’t it entail! 

In those days, coaching staffs were far smaller than they are today, consisting of a head coach and several assistants. That meant widely ranging responsibilities, and a lot of them, for student managers. “We helped out at practice, made sure players were in bed at curfew, assisted with the scout team,” he says, ticking off a few examples from a long list. 

Always on hand for away games and training, of course, the managers arranged for the team’s food and lodging while on the road as well. 

At the same time, “I had to juggle my studies,” said the Rochester native, whose parents – a professor and a school teacher – instilled in his two brothers and him the importance of “doing well in academics.”

Interestingly, it was the work of the team physician and trainer that most engaged him. “The more I got involved, the more I gravitated toward medicine and science,” Smith said, adding that he switched his major to health and sports science as a result. 

After a couple of years as a golf pro (“I got pretty decent in college,” he said), he realized his life’s work was elsewhere. More importantly, so was his heart. “Now I’m motivated,” he said, “now my path is clear.” Med school it would be.

Pre-reqs, MCATs, a brief stint as a medical tech at Canyon Ranch in Tucson thanks to Dr. Andrew Weil, the wellness guru he met along the way, and a master’s in clinical chemistry behind him, he was admitted to, enrolled at and graduated with an M.D. from SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.   

Some two decades into a successful career as a primary care physician in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the cold and gray began to wear on him. He happened to meet up with an old college friend who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, and in not much more than the blink of an eye, Beaufort Memorial had made him an offer. 

“What does it for us is the sun,” Smith says of himself and his new bride, Lisa Marie, a fitness trainer, who between them have five children and a large Labradoodle named Moose. “I tell my friends back home, ‘Life just seems better here. Everything has been an upgrade.’”

Wake Forest didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament during Smith’s four years on campus, but “after we recruited Tim Duncan, that was another story!” he said, referring to the all-time-great power forward who played, and won, for Wake from 1993 to 1997.

Needless to say, the doctor remains a big fan of March Madness. Though neither of his teams will likely make it to the Final Four (or even the tournament) this season, Wake Forest and Syracuse did square off in their first game in the 2023 ACC Men’s Tournament on March 8. 

Final score: Wake Forest 77, Syracuse 74.

The obvious question: How did Smith lean? “I was torn!” he admitted. “But Wake, no question.”

It was a good night.


Sallie Stone is a freelance writer covering Beaufort County.