Slam Dunk: Smith eyes SAT, UNC

<i>Inside Carolina</i>'s Jeff Goodman is in Lewes, Delaware at the Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament. He reports on J.R. Smith's opening game, and spoke to Smith afterwards about his focus on the SAT and his love of the Tar Heels.

LEWES, Del. -- It was anything but a typical J.R. Smith performance, but instead of continuing to launch three-pointers the St. Benedict's (N.J.) junior swingman did whatever he could to help his team win.

The 6-5 Smith, who was just 3-for-11 from the field in a 73-58 victory over Leon Powe's Oakland Tech (Calif.) squad, couldn't buy a trifecta early in the game. In fact, he missed on all six of his attempts from beyond the arc in the first half.

However, Smith took it to the basket in the second half and fought underneath for rebounds and loose balls. He finished with 13 points, including a 7-of-8 performance from the charity stripe, as Dan Hurley's club won despite a sub-par performance.

A year ago at Lakewood High (N.J.) and even pre-ABCD Camp this past summer, Smith would have been content remaining out on the three-point line and firing long-range shots. But now, with oozing confidence in his penetration skills stemming from a phenomenal second half of the summer, he has been able to consistently beat defenders off the dribble.

Smith, whose love for UNC remains unwavering, said the transition from Lakewood to St. Benedict's has been difficult not just because he's moved more than an hour from his New Jersey home.

"Basketball-wise, it's been great," Smith said. "But I was really missing football."

To refresh your memory, Smith was a standout football player (WR/DB) who was getting bigger looks on the gridiron until he found his niche with the Tim Thomas Playaz early last summer. Clemson, Virginia and other big-time football programs were interested, but Smith wanted to concentrate on basketball and his grades, so he transferred to St. Benedict's, which doesn't even field a football team.

Smith said his grades in the classroom aren't the issue at hand. He maintained that he needs to boost his SAT score before the Tar Heels will extend a scholarship offer.

"UNC told me that as soon as I get my SAT, I'm ready to go," said Smith. "As soon as I get the score, I'll get it (offer)."

Smith remains after school almost every day for about an hour to work on his academics in preparation for his next go-around for the SAT in the spring. He earned a 720 the last time he took the test.

Duke has apparently backed off in their once-pursuit of Smith, so now Smith's top five is as follows: UNC, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Villanova and N.C. State. But it's clear that one team stands well above the others.

"Carolina is still far and away my top choice," said Smith, who came into Friday night's game averaging about 20 points per game.

Smith, who has been a lifelong Carolina fan and flashes a huge smile when the topic of Michael Jordan comes up in conversation, said he owes much of his success this past summer to Jordan.

"It was right before ABCD with my dad," he said. "I was watching a DVD of Jordan and how much he goes to the basket and I decided that's what I needed to do."

Now Smith realizes he needs to do something else in order to take the next step – and it's got nothing to do with basketball or football.

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