Former Redbird player Jamar Smiley, left, poses with STATEside editor Ryan Denham on Friday at Arch Madness.

As first-year Redbird coach Dan Muller got his team warmed up before Friday night’s Arch Madness opener, an old teammate was courtside to cheer him on.

Jamar Smiley made the trip to St. Louis—driving down with another former Redbird playerChad Altadonna—arriving just before ISU took on Northern Iowa at Scottrade Center. The last time the Redbirds won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament—and a bid to the NCAA Tournament—Smiley was on the court for ISU, playing with fellow senior Muller.

Muller, Smiley, and the ’Birds won the MVC tourney in 1997 and 1998, the last time ISU made the Big Dance. On Friday, Smiley said he was ready to drive back down to St. Louis on Sunday if his friend Muller was coaching for a title. Smiley said it wasn’t weird to see Muller on the MVC sidelines, because he always figured he would go on to become a coach.

“He’s just such a well-rounded guy,” Smiley told STATEside courtside before tip-off. “That’s No. 1 what I attribute to his being successful. Dan’s just always very even-keeled.”

Smiley has tried to come back to Redbird Arena for at least one game per year, but this season, with Muller at the helm, Smiley’s seen them in action four times. It’s a transition year, with a new head coach, but Smiley says these Redbirds deserve “credit for playing as hard as they can every game.”

“You can’t tell me these kids don’t play extremely hard,” Smiley said.

After Illinois State, Smiley went to work for BDA Sports Management, where he has been for 12 years and is now player relations director—a “jack of all trades,” as he describes it. He works with athletes in scouting, recruiting, training, and player development, among other tasks. And he puts his sociology major at Illinois State to good use (albeit indirectly) managing relationships among his many clients.

“I wake up every day excited about the opportunities presented to me,” said Smiley, who lives in Aurora with his wife and three children.

Whatever happens this weekend in St. Louis, the former Redbird assists man likes ISU’s chances in the long-term under Muller, who he talks to usually once a week.

“The guy’s not gonna fail,” Smiley said. “The guy’s a winner.”

STATEside is reporting from the MVC tournament for as long the Redbirds are playing. Follow all the action on Illinois State Athletics’ Tournament Central page or here on STATEside.

Ryan Denham can be reached at