Whether it was to talk basketball or just about life, Nolan Smith has felt a void in his life since his father, Derek, died of a undetected heart defect in 1996 when Nolan was 7 years old.
``Just him not being around was difficult," said Nolan, now considered one of the top players in the Class of 2007. "Not having someone to go to talk about basketball. It took a while for me to understand because I was so young."
Derek Smith was a nine-year NBA veteran who was in his second season as an assistant coach with the Washington Bullets. He was 34 years old when he died.
While his son, Nolan, said he is trying to carve his own identity, there's also a chance that he'll follow in his father's footsteps and attend Louisville, where Derek helped lead the Cardinals to the National Championship in 1980.
The 6-2 ½, 180-pound Nolan, who turns 17 in July, spent his early childhood years in Louisville and moved to the Maryland/D.C. area in the second grade when his father got the job with the Bullets.
Nolan may not have his father to work on his game, but a couple of his former teammates have helped. Jerry Eaves, the coach at N.C. A&T, has helped Nolan with his jumper while Darrell Griffith, another ex-Louisville standout, has been there as a father figure.
``He left a lot of friends behind," Nolan Smith.
Now Smith occasionally watches tapes of his father's playing days, including the 1980 title game victory against UCLA.
``The thing that stands out the most is his hard work and seeing how intense he was on the court," Nolan said.
That's one facet that Nolan is trying to improve.
``I'm trying to keep momentum every game," he added. "Going out there and playing hard every play."
Smith is a guy who can do a lot of things. He averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists last season at Riverdale Baptist (Md.). Smith admitted he's more comfortable at the shooting guard spot right now, but he's working on his floor skills in order to be able to play the point at the next level as well.
``He's got a great attitude and is very humble," D.C. Assault coach Curtis Malone said. "He plays a lot harder now and is more aggressive. His weakness is really his strength. His athletic ability is really coming on now and his mental approach to the game and understanding is what helps set him apart. He really knows how to play."
However, admittedly Smith struggled in April. One of the reasons for his inconsistent play was a myriad of injuries – knee, ankle and bruised ribs.
``I wanted to be a competitor, so I didn't want to sit out," Smith said. "I'm finally feeling 100 percent now."
It's been widely reported that Louisville leads for Smith's services and while he admits that's the case, it's still not a foregone conclusion that he'll end up playing for Rick Pitino.
``They're definitely at the top of my list, but I'm not going to rush anything," Smith said. "I need to make sure it's the right fit. There might be another school that's a better fit – where I can go in and do my thing."
There's no question that a lot of schools haven't – and won't – bother wasting their time on Smith, feeling he's a lock to commit to Louisville.
``Coach (Roy) Williams called my high school coach last week," Smith said. "I love their style and definitely want to keep them in mind."