JaJuan puts on a show

Fans who forgot how entertaining former Tennessee Vol JaJuan Smith can be on a basketball court got a refresher course Monday night at Bearden High Gym.

Although he had never even met his teammates previously, Smith showed up minutes before tipoff and scored 28 points in helping The News-Sentinel trip Richardson Construction 120-108 in Pilot Rocky Top League action.

Smith just returned from Memphis, where he and former Vol teammate Chris Lofton participated in a tryout camp with the NBA's Grizzlies. Each is awaiting word from the team regarding his future.

"Me and Chris are hoping we can reunite again," Smith said. "We're still waiting on calls, but I think we both got invited to play for their summer-league team. That's another step forward."

If so, Lofton and Smith will spend June playing in the Rocky Top League and spend July playing in the NBA Summer League at Las Vegas.

You'd figure that, after facing NBA-caliber players in the Grizzlies camp, JaJuan would find Rocky Top League competition inferior. Not so.

"This competition ain't too far (below)," he said. "You're going to have an NBA guy out of this gym one day. The competition is right there because everyone's hungry and likes to battle. That's the name of the game."

Upon returning from Memphis, JaJuan was cooling his heels when he got a fateful phone call.

As he recalled: "One of my biggest fans, Jo Brown, called my mother and asked 'Why ain't JaJuan playing in the Rocky Top League?'"

The answer was simple:

"I didn't know it had started," he said. "I got in contact with them (league officials), and they said to show up here today. So, here I go."

Smith wound up being placed with The News-Sentinel, whose roster already featured current Vol junior Brian Williams, sophomore Scotty Hopson and incoming freshman walk-on Skylar McBee.

Williams was a little-used freshman when Smith was a senior at UT. Otherwise, all of his new teammates are strangers to him. He's grown accustomed to that scenario, however.

"When I'm trying out (with NBA teams), I'm always in there with guys I ain't played with before," he said. "So it was just another one of them moments – different people and another jersey."

Smith launched a bunch of 3-pointers, making a few, but his most memorable play of the night was a dazzling assist. Driving full-speed toward the basket, he made a blind behind-the-back bounce pass to Hopson for a dunk that brought the capacity crowd to its feet.

Although the fans were pleased, JaJuan wasn't.

"I played horrible," he said. "But I made some shots – showed I can still make the 3 – and we won the game. That's the biggest thing. I'm out here trying to finish first."


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