West Virginia's 6-7 forward has been unleashed, flashing his athleticism and ability within a new scheme that allows for increased individual play. The sophomore, who played an average of just 4.6 minutes per game last season and didn't even appear in six contests, has began to blossom under the new coaching staff. Called by Huggins an "outstanding athlete," Smith has both the physical traits to flourish and the shooting touch to pull foes away from the basket.
One of a record seven signees in the 2006 class, Smith's only major offer was from West Virginia. His position wasn't one of major need, and so he did not get the playing time of backup point guard Joe Mazzulla, or forward Da'Sean Butler, who seemed to find the perfect fit between his ability to shoot and his ability to create one-on-one and around the basket. Smith spent the season developing his shooting touch, then had to change his body make-up over the offseason when Huggins instituted a stringent weight lifting regiment. Now, the second-year player is expected to start and play the majority of minutes, allowing the staff to get the most out of his athleticism.
"The practices have been hard, but we have gotten through it," Smith said. "It's a whole bunch of stuff that you never thought you could go through. But you go through it and you're done. Practice last year was about two hours. Now it's a full three, and it's all movement, all go. There's no sitting down. It's different."
West Virginia is working on its conditioning and the ability to push the ball in transition. Other than that, it has been defense galore as Huggins begins to implement the on-ball style and physicality that are his trademark. The Mountaineers, over the first three practice sessions, have yet to touch upon the majority of what their offense will be. It has instead begun building the foundation for what its first-year head coach believes are the keys to winning: defense and rebounding.
"We've worked on man-to-man and a 2-3 and 1-1-3 zone," Smith said. "The 1-1-3 is designed to keep the ball out of the paint and away from the basket. All practice is really defense. All of us can shoot and we all know how to play offense. It's the defense and other things we did not hit on last year that we are hitting on this year."
One of the better aspects of this change is that West Virginia, so fundamentally sound under Beilein, can simply add to that while also developing other skill sets. This will obviously be one of Huggins' better shooting teams, and with the base physical ability – Huggins said this team was more talented and athletic than the one he had at Kansas State – WVU can work on its rebounding and defense and still play within the concepts of not turning the ball over and being unselfish. Huggins saw some of that play when West Virginia practiced this weekend, though this week will be a better test, mentally and physically, as the Mountaineers begin to move away from the basics and start to install various sets on offense and defense.
"He loves tough guys," Smith said of Huggins. "His practices are tough, and if you get through it, once the game starts you will be fine. For me, I had to get a bath and soak my legs. The soreness the next day is the hardest. I am trying to take ibuprofen or Aleve or something to get that soreness away for a few hours. Then I go home and am sore again and just lay down. The games will be the easiest part."