COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) — St. John’s University is about to lose a legend.  Jim Smith started coaching basketball there in 1964 and has won more games than any other college basketball coach in Minnesota history.

Tuesday, Smith told his team he’s retiring. Wednesday, he sat down with WCCO to talk about the past and the future.

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There are a few things that distinguish St. John’s University, and 80-year-old Marquette alum Jim Smith is one of them.

“Fifty one years almost to the day I was called up to St. John’s to come up for a visit and I had never heard of St. John’s,” Smith said.

And since that call he’s coached the Johnnies, including 2012 graduate Aaron Barmore.

“It was so much more than basketball, you were able to go to him for really anything. He was helping you with career, life.” Barmore, who played for Smith, said.

“He keeps in touch with all his alumni, every single alumni,” Matt Ohme, a 2007 graduate who played for Smith said.

Some of Smith’s alumni are now grandfathers, and some are family.

“I coached generations and I coached my grandson for a couple of years which was a first in NCAA history,” Smith said.

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And quite a history he has created. The first conference title in 50 years came in 1969, and in 1979 his team won 27 straight games.

But those aren’t the only stats he emphasizes.

“I take them out for dinner at the end of the semester, anybody who has a 3.5.” Smith said. He rewards his players for having good academics.

But this will be the last dinner. He surprised the team Tuesday night.

“At the end of team pictures, I gathered them all together and I told them, this was it and they all came up and hugged me, that was tough. Really, really hard,” Smith said.

It’s a decision he and his wife said was gut wrenching.

“He loves what he is doing, why do you leave something that you’re doing (sigh) but the timing is right,” Adrienne Smith said.

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So this year will mark the end of a career well played. On Thursday, coach Smith will take 14 of his players to dinner for their high GPAs.  After that, he and his wife plan to travel.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield