"We have 400 kids in our senior class and by the faculty he was voted most outstanding senior," Central Cabarrus coach Scott Brewer said. "That right there says it all. He's the guy everybody wants to be around. His behavior is impeccable and his manners are unbelievable. I don't know how a guy like that stays under the radar. Maybe size?"
And, of course, he's fast.
"I like to think that when I push the ball I'm kind of shifty with it," Smith said. "Not comparing myself to Reggie Bush but when he's running and makes decisions to cut, I try and do that: be control and not just make one straight cut."
Thursday night against West Charlotte, Smith was shifty alright. He worked his magic to the tune of 31 points (9-for-22 FG), 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 6 turnovers. For the season, he's averaging 24.6 points and 9.8 assists but that's just a part of the story.
Smith is Central Cabarrus' all-time assist leader (675+) and is No. 2 on the scoring list with over 1,700 points. Did we mention they recently retired his jersey or that he shot 11-for-11 from the line Thursday night?
Bobby Lutz of Charlotte offered him a scholarship as a sophomore but the 6-foot guard still managed to fly under the proverbial radar most of his high school career. Just when it looked like he was on the verge of announcing his presence, he flew right back under the radar.
Last June, Smith was a big name to emerge from the NBA Players Association Camp event. Kids who had never heard nor seen him in action loved his unselfishness and speed. He played well enough at camp to warrant inclusion on Scout.com's top point guard list and checked in at No. 21. Unlike most of the guys at the NBA Camp whose summer was just beginning, Smith's pretty much stopped in terms of the national spotlight after the event.
"I guess I like to say that he didn't chase the dream he let the dream chase him," Brewer said. "He didn't do a lot of the things that people do in terms of paying money to go to this or that camp. He wasn't on one of the premier AAU teams by choice.
"I guess he didn't do some of the (national events) but that doesn't mean he wasn't in the gym working with me or his dad. How he stays under the radar like that I don't know. Some prep schools wanted him to come but he chose to stay at home and play with the boys."
And it's been a great choice.
Wake Forest locked him up and in all likelihood he's going to be able to leave his imprint on the Deacons early in his career. Skip Prosser needs a guy to run the show and Smith is capable. Because of the need for a playmaker, Smith should help shape the future of Wake hoops the next four seasons.
Right from the get-go, Wake Forest will become a better attacking team because that's what Smith does. He gets the ball and looks to be end line to end line and again, the theme is speed. The Deacons, with him on the floor, will be a fast team, there's little doubt about that because that's the strength of Smith's game.
Wake's rough season has been tough to take for the competitive Smith but he knows there's a chance to turn it around with a little elbow grease. "It's a little bit frustrating but I know one thing next year: college is not easy. You have to go in there come in and work hard kind of like Chris did. He took college by storm and that's what you have to do."
Ah, the first Chris Paul reference but surely not the last for the Deacs next point guard.
Following a player of Paul's stature is a lot tougher than it sounds. There's a certain expectation level that comes with stepping into those shoes. Having said that, Smith is not Chris Paul. Paul impacted a team, a league and now an NBA franchise. He was one of the all-time greats in the ACC and those don't come around often.
Smith, though speedy, shifty and downright fast, isn't Paul. Everyone will want to draw the comparisons because of the timing and to a degree the pace at which Smith goes wire to wire, but he shouldn't carry the burden of those expectations that Paul shouldered. In the end, he'll be his own player and he's learned some things from his predecessor.
"He's always in control," Smith said of Paul. "What I'm trying to do is play fast but always be in control. I take more shots than him but he's smarter when he comes and takes it to the hole. I think Chris goes to the hole strong all the time. I have to cradle it and go to the hole. I think the aspects of his game are a whole lot different than me."
Smith will be an easy player to coach. He understands he's not a finished product and gracefully handles conversation about areas for improvement. For instance, he had a few too many turnovers against West Charlotte.
"I had 3, 4 or 5 and I hate that," Smith said. "I know two of them were bad with me dribbling off my foot. I just have to make better passes and things like that."
Conversely, his future Deacon teammates should be on alert. This guy is going to get into the lane and he will locate you. At that point, it's up to the big fellas inside to catch and finish for him. If they can, his big number assists will follow him.
When it's all said and done, Ishmael Smith will be a good college player. He'll need to get stronger but most do once they arrive on campus. Besides, Smith has already proven to be patient and focused. In an era where most kids are hungry for the national summer circuit and big title events to play in Smith, didn't need the attention. He quickly found a comfort zone at Wake Forest and they sure were happy to land him.
"To me the story is that he didn't chase the dream, it came right to him," Brewer said. "We've got a pretty average team but when you put him on it everyone gets better."
Sounds like the little point guard out of Concord is quite the Demon.