"I'm pretty sure he'd be smiling," Smith said. And what advice would dad offer up to Nolan if he were around? "I'd play harder. He'd want that."
Smith might be his best critic because since his freshman season he's earned the reputation as a guy who gets after it. "His dad would be so proud," Nolan's mother Monica said.
The 6-foot-3 guard, ranked No. 16 by Scout.com, has always been around the game. Sure, he tried soccer and other sports, but he fell in love and dedicated himself to basketball. Whether he was answering questions from former NBA coach Jim Lynam as a youngster or earning MVP honors at the adidas Super Star Camp last summer, Smith has been quite a student.
"He's always been smart with the basketball," mom said. "He's always had a knowledge of the game."
That knowledge – and talent – has led to numerous collegiate offers. Currently, Smith lists Louisville, Kansas, Duke and Georgetown as his 4 favorites. Interestingly enough, the guard has strong connections with each program via his father and step dad.
Smith refers to Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins as "his uncle." The Blue Devils are beginning to crank up their recruitment of Smith and Dawkins' relationship founded on a kinship with Derek Smith will be a selling point.
Speaking of relationships, KU's hook with Smith runs directly through staffer Danny Manning who roomed with Nolan's father in the NBA. Smith's mother Monica recently remarried a person close to Nolan – his AAU coach. Curtis Malone, now Nolan's step dad, according to Smith, brings some Hoya ties from his time in the D.C. area.
And then there's Louisville. Smith calls Louisville home and has numerous relatives including his grandmother and sister in the area. In fact, his sister is a sophomore on the Cardinals campus.
Louisville is a major factor in Smith's recruitment and it's a special place to Nolan and his family. Most have penciled him in as forgone conclusion to be a Cardinal but his recruitment is a process, especially since his sister went through a rough spell once she got to school.
Last spring, Smith was rumored to be close to announcing for the Cardinals but the commitment didn't occur. "The reason why I changed my mind is that my sister is there and she said it was hard with people constantly reminding her of my dad," Smith said. "My mom and I sat down and decided to open my recruitment."
"It's not so much the pressure (of following in his foot steps); it's just people thinking I'm my dad and asking if I'll wear (No.) 43. I love my dad but I want to be Nolan Smith not Derek."
The guard is quite serious about his college decision. It's an emotional one for him and he's not about to pick a school and not have it work out. Smith said he's only making one college decision and transferring won't be an option.
"Recruiting wise, I'm going to take my time and take a few visits this spring and summer and make my decision."
Whatever decision he makes, you can rest assured that somewhere Derek Smith is smiling because his son – both on and off the court – has done him proud.