RICHTON PARK, Ill. – When the tournament program lists you as part of "one of the best backcourts in tournament history," there is usually a lot of pressure to perform up to that statement.
That didn't faze Reggie Smith, as he and the Thornton Wildcats defeated the Rich East Rockets 67-41 in the first round of the annual Big Dipper Classic, held at Rich South high school.
Smith finished the game with 19 points and showed why he is capable of seeing minutes right away at Marquette next year. Listed at 6'1", he dazzled spectators on the court with an array of outside shots, drives to the hoop, and crisp passes in transition.
It's clear that Thornton head coach Troy Jackson knows who his go-to guy is, as the Wildcats' first four possessions were run through Smith on pick-and-rolls and drives to the basket. His best attribute is the quickness he possesses with the basketball, and he can change directions on a dime while still maintaining complete control with his head up.
At his size, Smith would be considered small for a shooting guard on most teams. But with 5'9" Jay Parker at the point this year, Smith moved to the two-slot after playing point for most of his career. The move gave Smith a chance to work on his outside shot, a perceived weakness scouts have cited in his game.
On Saturday, Smith connected on three very deep three pointers and hauled in nine rebounds. And despite his shooting guard role on paper, he brought the ball up on some occasions and saw a touch on offense on just about every possession.
"I can play whatever they want me to play," Smith said. "I've been working hard and this summer was playing the ‘one' with my Mac Irvin Fire team. I'm just ready for whatever they want me to do."
Unofficially, Smith finished the game with four assists, but that number did not do his passing justice. When Rich East switched to a zone, Smith was there to dice it up by penetrating and dishing to a teammate, who in turn made the extra pass to find a wide-open teammate. In hockey terms, Smith would have finished with an extra six or seven assists.
When Smith kept the ball off the dribble, he wowed the crow with spectacular layups in traffic, seemingly hanging in the air a second longer than anyone else. His strong upper body and smart decision-making led to six foul shot attempts, all of which he made.
"I'm being more aggressive and becoming stronger," Smith said on what he's worked on most since last season. "I'm also playing smarter and thinking ahead towards the next step."
That aggressiveness is sure to fit well with Marquette's up-tempo style on offense next season. Most of Smith's nine rebounds were followed by him bulleting down the sideline, looking for an open teammate in transition. Early in the third quarter, Smith threw a half-court pass to a streaking Antonio Levy for a perfect alley-oop pass that drew applause from both sides of the gym.
Smith signed with Marquette on the last day of the early signing period, citing both coach Buzz Williams and the style of play as deciding factors on his college choice.
"[Williams] is a young coach and a very emotional coach," Smith said. "He's loud and I like that. That helped me a lot with my decision.
"I know I'm going to fit right in. I watch a lot of the games, and even at the camps, the way he was teaching us how to play and the plays he was doing for us, it was [all] a high-tempo style."
Defensively, Smith's athleticism should also help him stand out at the next level. What he lacks in height he makes up for in speed and quickness. Rarely did dribblers get in front of Smith, and he forced several bad passes when playing zone.
He simply out-jumped the rest of the team on a few rebounds and also finished the game with two steals and just two early fouls. As would be expected in a blowout game, Smith was caught standing around in his zone on a few occasions, giving up baskets in the process, but nothing that would label him lazy or uninterested.
In 2008, most considered Smith a high-flying guard who could generate hits on Youtube on his dunks alone. While that athleticism still remains, and his dunks are sure to come in bunches, Smith has now added a smooth outside shot, excellent vision, and team leadership to an already loaded arsenal.
"I'm becoming a much more skilled player all around. You see me shooting now, so whatever they say I am, it really doesn't matter. I know what I am."