After a stellar high school career and no major scholarship offers, the 6-foot-3 senior guard approached UW associate head coach Greg Gard about the opportunity to walk-on to Wisconsin. Needless to say, the UW coaching staff couldn't say no after losing two walk-ons last season, putting the wheels in motion to have Smith join the Badgers starting this summer.
"I had some opportunities but I feel like in a couple years, I'll have a chance to earn a scholarship and be on a winning team at Wisconsin," Smith told Badger Nation Thursday. "I think those two things were the most attractive things to me."
In addition to a multitude of Division 2 and 3 offers from local schools, Smith had a walk-on opportunity at back-to-back national runner-up Butler, who he visited after his season, but his mind kept drifting back to the connections he has at Wisconsin.
In addition to having been recruited by Gard starting when he was a sophomore, Smith was a former teammate of Jon Leuer when Smith played on varsity during seventh and eighth grade. So when Smith made the initial phone call to Gard asking him if he could walk-on at Wisconsin, an understandably excited Gard invited him and his father down two weeks ago for a visit.
"He took us on a tour of the campus and really reached out to us and made me feel welcomed," said Smith, who had been to Madison previous for some of UW's summer camps. "They thought I had opportunity, which I did, but I thought walking on at Wisconsin was ideal."
While Smith's initial conversation with Gard got him on campus, it was his conversations with Leuer and current Badgers sophomore Mike Bruesewitz, a former teammate with the AAU 43 Hoops Club, that sealed the deal.
"I've worked out with Jon in past summers, so it was really helpful to talk to him the other day and have him tell me how everything at Wisconsin works," Smith said. "Mike had mixed emotions early on about the coaches because he never really had coaches that were hard on him, but both guys have the utmost respect for Coach Ryan and the entire coaching staff. It definitely was helpful talking to both of those guys because they reinforced that it's a really tight-knit group at Wisconsin."
With six years of varsity experience, not to mention a 30 on the ACT, Smith brings plenty of intelligence and wherewithal on the court. More importantly, he brings a knack for hitting shots from anywhere on the court; with one of his more impressive outings being a 49-point performance his junior season when he hit 11 of 13 3-pointers.
"I've been the last guy off the bench and the go-to guy on the team, so I know what it's like to be a role player," Smith said. "The thing with Wisconsin is they have a system that I think I fit into it and obviously they think I fit into very well. Hopefully down the road, I can become one of those role players that shoots the ball really well. I think Wisconsin's system is designed to come off screens, but people like Jordan Taylor come off a screen, depend on help and finding guys open. I feel like I can help on the floor in this system."
Becoming the fourth Minnesota player on the roster, the level of excitement is indescribable for Smith, who never felt he would get to experience that level of basketball after all the BCS schools that had shown him interest went in different directions. With the excitement, however, is a chip on his shoulder for getting passed over, Smith is celebrating this summer by going to the gym to work on his ball handling.
He doesn't just want to be a warm body on the bench, as Smith knows he can be a valuable commodity in the future.
"The only thing that wasn't awesome about my program was I didn't get a chance to really show everything I can do," Smith said. "We ran the dribble drive where at times you stand in the corner and wait for someone to get you the ball. I think having over 2,500 points, I think that proves I can do other things with my ball handling, quickness and defense that will help me along the way."