Slam Dunk: Smith still learning the game

<i>IC</i>'s Jeff Goodman reports from the second day of the Slam Dunk to the Beach in Lewes, Delaware on UNC's Class of 2004 target J.R. Smith.

LEWES, Del. -- J.R. Smith has improved dramatically since this past summer, but it may be premature to call him a Top 10 talent in the 2004 class.

It's not because he's struggled to regain his outside shooting touch over the last two days at the Slam Dunk to the Beach in Delaware. It's more a case that he just doesn't possess some of the basketball instincts that many of the other elite players (i.e. D.J. White, Brian Johnson, Daniel Gibson, Marvin Williams) seem to have.

Smith was 6-of-17 overall from the field and 3-of-9 from long range in St. Benedict's (N.J.) 62-58 victory over St. Andrews (R.I.).

Early in the game, Smith's shot was off the mark. He missed on a 15-footer from the right wing and then airballed a mid-range jumper from the baseline. Smith finally got on the board with a trifecta late in the first quarter.

There's no question that Smith is a streaky shooter who can be as dangerous as just about anyone in the country when he gets on a roll. But he needs to work on the other phases of the game – ballhandling, passing and rebounding – before he can lay claim to being mentioned alongside the elite players in the class.

Smith showed some of the athleticism that had coaches drooling over him this past summer when he started taking it to the basket in the second half. After finishing with 6 points on a pair of three-pointers prior to the break, he scored an easy bucket inside to start off the second half.

He drove the baseline with four minutes left in the third quarter for a nice reverse layup which was contested by St. Andrews and then canned a 3-pointer and hit on a floater in the lane as time expired in the third to help St. Benedict's comeback from a deficit.

Smith didn't provide much offense in the fourth quarter of a tight game, connecting on a pair of free throws and missing a trio of shots in the final period, but he did end up grabbing a few key rebounds down the stretch.

Smith finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists as St. Benedict's remained unbeaten at 6-0. In two games, he is 9-28 from the field and 3-15 from three-point land.

One of the reasons that Smith could be behind some of the other top players in terms of basketball I.Q. is that this is his first season exclusively playing basketball. In the past, at Lakewood High (N.J.), he would split his focus between football and basketball.

However, Smith should develop over the next two seasons under former college coach/player Dan Hurley, who is in his second season at the helm for St. Benedict's.

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