CW: J.R. Smith Spotlight

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- J.R. Smith came away from his official visit to Chapel Hill earlier this month having learned a couple of valuable lessons. First, his future Tar Heel teammates are extremely talented. Second, he's going to need to get even stronger to compete with them for playing time when he arrives at UNC next year.

"I've been lifting a lot of weights lately," Smith said Saturday evening at the Charlie Weber Invitational. "I went down on my visit to Carolina and started playing and everybody was stronger than me, so I'm trying to get stronger."

One look at Smith and you know he's no slouch in the weight room. The remarkable athlete, who is built more like a football player, stands 6-6 and 220 pounds now.

But apparently that wasn't enough to outmuscle the likes of David Noel in pickup games.

"I matched up with David Noel," Smith said, admitting that he was bested by the UNC sophomore . "He's an athlete, man. He's a good defensive player. I started making a lot of shots and he started D-ing up on me.

And Smith was impressed by the improvement shown by incoming freshman Reyshawn Terry.

"He's a good player," Smith said. "We played against him during the school year [at the Prime Time Shootout in Feb.] and he did all right, but he's gotten a lot better, especially working out with those guys."

Smith was satisfied with the way he played, but admitted to being outdone by a fellow recruit.

"I did pretty well, but Shaun did the best, though," he said.

That'd be Shaun Livingston, the top point guard in the nation and a friend of Smith's, as the two officially visited Carolina together.

"It was a good visit, we had fun," Smith said. "We played pickup games a lot and went to the football game. He liked it a lot. I got along with everybody, especially all the sophomores. It felt great to get a lot of support out there -- it felt like home."

And Smith has been trying to do his part as a Tar Heel in wooing Livingston.

"I've been trying to recruit him but he isn't picking up his phone," Smith said.

So where does Smith think Livingston will eventually choose? North Carolina? Duke?

"The NBA," Smith said. "He's 6-7, has handle like Mark Jackson, quickness like Allen Iverson. He's not strong enough, but it's not all about strength in the NBA."

One of the highlights of the official visit for Smith was the opportunity to spend some time talking to his future head coach, Roy Williams.

"He wasn't like I expected. I thought he'd be real serious, but he was cool," Smith said. "We talked about what we needed coming in other than me, talked about Marvin's game, talked about JamesOn and talked about Shaun Livingston and see if we're going to get him to come. Talked about Randolph Morris, Dwight Howard (but he's going to the NBA – there's no doubt about it). He spoke about Randolph a lot."

Williams also provided some advice for Smith, noting the most important things he needs to improve on before he arrives at UNC.

"Consistency on my shot, ball handling and strength," Smith said.

More than anything else, Smith is just happy to have his college decision behind him.

"It's a lot easier to get the pressure off of me," he said.

And now he can focus solely on his senior year at St. Benedict's, which includes an SAT prep class this fall and his first try at the SAT in November.

On Saturday at the Charlie Weber Invitational, it wasn't a memorable showing for Smith, save for a few highlights, such as a jaw-dropping alley-oop finish in traffic.

After missing his Playaz Gold's first game Saturday afternoon because he was stuck in College Park traffic, Smith posted 10 points (4-11 fg, 1-4 3pt, 1-1 ft), six rebounds, three blocks and three assists in a route of a team from New Hampshire.

"I didn't think tonight was the best performance for Smith that we've become accustomed to seeing," noted IC's courtside analyst, Clint Jackson. "He had some memorable moments -- dunks, blocks and goal tends-- which he usually always does, but his shot was off and his handle still needs a little tweaking in order to make his isolation moves look more complete. And when his handle sharpens up -- he could be nearly unguardable in the open floor.

"He definitely looks bigger and stronger since the last time we saw him. His traps (shoulders) are notably bigger and his shoulders even look broader. When motivated -- he seems to play good defense in spurts. He has some traits of Corey Maggette and some traits of James White in high school. He loves to jet out on the break and always finds the correct lane to run. Sometimes when he's running the wing on the break, you can just feel the anticipation of the highlight alley-oop. His hang time is amazing. He will definitely bring the thunder on many a night in the Dean Dome.

"Not much you can say about his athleticism other then the fact that he's on a completely elite level in this class. He is a good long-range shooter -- albeit streaky -- and has the potential to be a defensive stopper as well. We also like the fact that he's physical and he'll get some boards.

On the areas of improvements -- his handle, his mid range game and his consistency. Big time player though here folks. No doubt about it."

While it's highly unlikely at this stage, Smith did note that heading straight to the NBA is something he'd like to pursue if the opportunity presented itself.

"I've thought about it a little bit, but not much," he said. "I've talked with my [AAU] coach that if I had a real good senior year then maybe. If I had the chance -- going to go in the lottery -- I would go."

For now, Tar Heel fans can rest easy, as Smith admittedly has a ways to go in order to reach lottery pick status.

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