Smith's Emergence

Junior Smith enters 2014 with an enhanced national profile that should continue to grow.

North Carolina was already well aware of the 6-2 sophomore from Fayetteville (N.C.) Trinity. Roy Williams watched Smith twice in December, and hosted him for UNC's game against Kentucky that same month.

Smith said his biggest takeaway from the Chapel Hill trip was the big game atmosphere and the UNC coach's interaction with his players. But having Williams make the trip to Fayetteville made just as big an impression.

"He came down to watch me personally himself - that was a big turnout for me," Smith said. "(He) said ‘good game' and he's going to come watch me again."

Many other coaches are sure to do so as well – especially after his HSOT Holiday Invitational performances a couple weeks ago.

Smith earned All-Tournament honors in leading Trinity to the championship game. He posted 22 points and six assists in beating fellow 2016 star Seventh Woods on opening night. In the semifinals against UNC signee Justin Jackson, Smith posted 42 points, including four-three pointers and an array of athletic plays at the rim.

He played like he understood the significance of the event – and the moment – for his game's upward trajectory.

"I couldn't wait to come to it because two years ago I was watching everyone play in it so I couldn't wait to get in it myself," Smith said. "I was always told big time players make big time plays, so whenever you're on a big stage it calls for a big performance."

Smith's offensive arsenal – an attacking mentality coupled with three-point range – and floor leadership impressed.

"Junior had a great tournament," said Trinity head coach Heath Vandevender. "He grew up a lot and we knew the tournament would be like this."

Vandevender noted that huge scoring totals aren't the norm for Smith, who is more likely to post double-digit assists. Smith concurred.

"It's usually about 10 (points) and 10 (assists)," Smith said. "I get my teammates involved real well – that's a big part of my game (as well as) leadership and I play good defensively. The main part I've developed is getting stronger."

Vandevender added, "What he did … was very special and I think it was kind of his coming out party and he's going to garner more attention as the season goes on.

"I thought he handled it well. He's just a good team player, and that's what it's all about."

Smith noticed his profile rising as the tournament progressed. Scouts praised him, friends called him, and once the video clips hit the Internet his Twitter mentions were overwhelming.

"It was too much, I had to cut it off for a while," he said. "I was getting phone calls, texts, Twitter was blowing up.

"I could tell it's about to change a whole lot."

Smith's list of interested schools is likely going to change, too. Entering the HSOT event, the colleges interested were local. He listed North Carolina, Duke, VCU, UNC-Charlotte and NC State.

He's eager to hear from more.

"Every guard probably want to hear from Kentucky, Kansas and Florida – so I've got a lot of schools I want to hear from," Smith said. "It's a long process and I've just got to absorb everything."

With that said, he noted that there will be a strong pull to attend school not too far from Fayetteville. "Being close to home is going to play a big, big part in my decision," he said.

On the morning of the HSOT championship game, he received his first ACC offer – from N.C. State, the school Smith's family rooted for because of his grandmother's affinity for the program.

"I felt North Carolina was leaning toward it more than N.C. State was, but they were the first offer," Smith said of the Wolfpack.

Already nationally ranked as the No. 25 prospect in the 2016 class by, Smith will prioritize early playing time in his decision process.

"They've got to have a lot of guard play and I want to come right in and play," he said of his ultimate destination. "I don't want to sit for a couple years – I want to come in and start – or not start, but get playing time."


by Rob Harrington

Junior Smith is a true point guard. Of the three sophomores to take the court in the HSOT opener — along with Seventh Woods and high-major teammate Kwe Parker — Smith is the only one of the three for whom that is true. Some of his best moments occurred as a passer, when he threw several perfect lobs to athletic Trinity Christian teammates (including ultra-springy Parker).

He also is the best of the three at creating passing angles off the dribble and seeing the entire court. Having said that, he's a natural point guard but still a developing one, due to the decision-making errors that are common for young floor generals.

He also made explosive plays of his own, driving the baseline and leaping off two feet for powerful slams, and his tip-dunk of a miss drew as loud a reaction as anything Woods authored.

If you were looking to adopt a more critical point of view, Smith didn't seem eager during the first half to challenge his more heralded opponent off the dribble. He's a good handler but not a great one, at least for the time being, though he did appear more comfortable in the second half and began to attack off the bounce more assertively.

As for his shooting, Smith has some touch, if not perfect form. He has excess motion in his shot that he'd be well-advised to reduce or eliminate, if possible, yet he knocks in some threes and pull-up jumpers as well. There's hope for him to become a consistent deep weapon, even if he isn't one now.

He certainly needs to improve his defensive effort and technique, but I express that sentiment between 500-1,000 times each calendar year. It's endemic among young players and always has been.

Bottom line: Despite Woods' sensational antics, Smith nevertheless managed to improve his reputation. That's an extremely impressive feat given the circumstances, and it speaks boldly to Smith's talent and long-term promise.



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