Smith Ready To Get To The Point

The only hole on Ohio State's roster for next season is a glaring one. With Evan Turner's early declaration to the NBA, the Buckeyes need someone to step up and run his vacated point guard spot. One candidate for the task is Lenzelle Smith, a three-star prospect from Illinois.

It is safer to say that Lenzelle Smith could be Ohio State's future point guard rather than to say he definitely will be.

Although the Buckeyes return most of the key pieces of a team that captured a share of the Big Ten title, gone is all-everything point guard Evan Turner. The biggest question looming over next year's team is who will fill Turner's shoes at the point guard position.

The two leading candidates are Smith and Aaron Craft, a pair of incoming freshmen. Although Smith was the first of the two to commit to the Buckeyes, Craft is billed as more of a true point guard. Scout.com ranks him as a four-star prospect and the No. 18 player at his position nationally.

Smith, in contrast, is a three-star prospect and the No. 22 point guard prospect. But rather than a knock on his abilities, that rating likely reflects the fact that Smith could contribute at other positions as well.

"He has good skills with the ball as a point guard and he could play anywhere 1 through 3," Don Kloth, Smith's head coach at Zion (Ill.) Zion-Benton, told BuckeyeSports.com. "Lenzelle is just a player."

On National Signing Day, OSU head coach Thad Matta praised Smith's playmaking abilities.

"He was the best passer I saw this summer," the coach said. "Lenzelle, he is a 2, is he a 3, is he a point guard? He can play any position. He's got great size and knows how to use his body well."

As Matta also pointed out, positions in his system are often interchangeable. Although Turner was a point guard last season, his teammates occasionally brought the ball up the court as well as he assumed a spot on the wing.

As a senior from Chicago St. Joseph's, Turner was ranked the No. 16 small forward prospect in the nation.

"Lenzelle is a kid with a great basketball IQ," Matta said. "I think he can come in here and hopefully do a lot of different things for us."

The question is how much point guard he will be tasked with. This spring, Smith said he is working on his overall game as well as his conditioning. As a senior, he averaged around 21 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists per game as Zion-Benton was bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

Smith himself said he is not exactly sure what his role will be for the Buckeyes but added that the point figures to factor in.

"My understanding is I'm coming in as a guy," he said. "That's the thing: I'm so versatile that I can play the point guard position or play the off-guard position. From what I've drawn from my conversations with Coach Matta and some of the other coaches is to make sure I can take and knock down open shots and pass the ball well. Basic stuff that makes a good point guard.

"I really have to focus on making sure I can be the best point guard I can."

Although he played varsity all four years in high school, Smith's greatest challenge this season was to grow from a leadership point, his coach said.

"We certainly asked Lenzelle to step up in that area and I think he responded very favorably," Kloth said. "It was a different role for him to take, so we were hoping to see more leadership in practice and games. I think as the year went on he certainly improved in those areas. We were happy with his development there."

Although Smith committed Sept. 25, 2008, and Craft did not join the class until more than eight months later, the latter commitment raised no concerns in his mind, Smith said.

"Aaron is a great point guard," he said. "He's a good player. He's solid, but I'm so versatile that I don't even worry about that. It's not set in stone yet whether I'll be playing point guard or not. That's the good thing about it, plus I have a little size on Aaron so that has an effect too."

Smith checks in at 6-3, 215 pounds and Craft is listed at 6-1, 170. Kloth said Smith is likely done getting taller but figures to put on some size once he arrives on campus.

Then the debate can end and the Buckeyes can start deciding how to use Smith – and Craft.

"Each year, Lenzelle had a new element to his game," Kloth said. "He made an incredible leap from his freshman to his sophomore year. One year he became a better driver to the basket. Another year we saw him improve in terms of working in the post and post moves. Then as time went on his perimeter shooting got better.

"He knows basketball. He's played a lot of basketball. I think he knows that he has to be strong in every area."


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