During the last month, coaching staffs from all over the country have had the opportunity to drop in on high school gyms from coast to coast in search of talent. While a major focus of the Kansas staff was completing their recruiting efforts for the class of 2005, they were also out and about evaluating players from the class of 2006 and beyond.
One player who has popped up on the early radar is six-foot-two combo guard Jerry Smith from Wauwatosa (WI) East. Smith is a big time scorer with an electric first step who has been adding improved shooting range and a point guard’s feel to his game. After earning his rep in the Wisconsin prep ranks and on the club circuit last summer, his recruitment is already on a big time level.
“Almost everyday out there was somebody coming by to see him and at least two or three schools a week during the open period,” Smith’s father, who doubles as his summer coach, Jerry told Phog.net. “I think we’re going to try and put a list together by November 1st, we’ll probably try to cut it down to five then.”
A big factor in setting that list of five schools will be unofficial school visits that the family is in the process of taking. The Smith’s have already seen the campuses of Wisconsin, Marquette and Iowa and they’ll be in Lawrence for Late Night next weekend. The next weekend they will trip to Purdue and the weekend after that will be a visit to Wake Forest and possibly Louisville. Other schools strongly in the mix at this point include UConn and Michigan State.
If the family needs more information after the series of visits, there is a chance that the cut down to five schools could be delayed for a month or two.
Tommy Zaffran coaches Smith’s club team the Wisconsin Playground Warriors along with the elder Smith. He isn’t surprised to see so much attention sent Jerry’s -- who just turned 17 a week ago -- way even though it is still early.
“I think he’s one of those super strong and super athletic combo guards, Milwaukee has had a few of them over the past years,” said Zaffran. “Devin Harris (Wisconsin, NBA), Deonte Tatum (Hawaii), and maybe a guy like Boo Wade (Wisconsin) fit that mode in high school. They don’t really have a set position they just do things out there and Jerry’s one of the best scorers that I’ve ever seen.”
While strength and athleticism are key components of his game, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Smith isn’t skilled either. He’s a clever scorer from mid range, rebounds very well for his size and likes to do the little things like setting screens. Besides producing in several competitive summer settings on the Nike circuit, Smith was one of only 18 players to attend the prestigious Nike School of Skills.
At the School of Skills, Smith learned several ball handling and shooting drills that he puts to good use while spending a couple of hours in the gym each day. He’s always been a gym rat and that should serve him well.
“I think the biggest thing for him is going to be ball handling from the point guard position,” added Zaffran. “He’s already got a good handle when he’s slashing, but he hasn’t had that many minutes at the point yet and he needs to show he can do that.”
While Smith’s father made it clear that things were wide open with his son and wouldn’t speculate on which schools will make his final list of five, the family has taken notice of Bill Self and his staff’s efforts.
“Number one, most guys won’t say that they are coming to a school for a coach, but you’ve got Bill Self and Coach J (Tim Jankovich) there and we’ve developed a great rapport with them,” said Smith. “Also, we know about the history of the program and even though Coach Self hasn’t been there for a long time he’s got the program headed in the right direction.”
“We look at it as an honor for Kansas to recruit Jerry and we’re going to visit and be open to learning all that we can about the school.”
As much as this decision is about basketball, education matters in the Smith family and the dedication each school shows to graduating players will be among the top if not the most important factors in a college choice. Mr. Smith works in the Milwaukee Public School system himself and Jerry carries a 3.1 GPA while taking a course load full of advanced placement classes in preparation for college.
With his priorities set, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everybody who talks about Smith first talks about what a good kid he is. It is something that is evident in his actions on a daily basis as well as on the basketball court.
“It’s almost sickening how good of a kid he is,” mused Zaffran. “The first time he played with us we had him playing in the 16’s and 17’s. He had just finished playing a 16 year old game and I was going to put him into the 17 year old game and he came back to me and asked me to put some of the older guys in first.”
“He’d already played with the 16’s and felt that it wasn’t right for him to be going in ahead of the other guys, and these were the kids who never get to play. That says a lot about a kid.”
Playing a dual role of father and coach can also make for some interesting situations between a father and son. However, the Smith’s do their best to stay positive and knowing when things need to be basketball and when they need to be father/son is a key. Still, the close relationship does help at times.
“First of all, I’m never negative with him. I’m never negative with any of my kids,” said Smith. “Now when you really need something done; because I raised him, he can just look over to me and know something needs to be done just by a facial expression I make or a motion I can make with my hands.”
For more information about Smith and the rest of the Wisconsin Playground Warriors, please take the following link, http://www.playgroundwarriors.com .m/lists