LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The return of the Derek Smith Shootout is the most welcome addition to the local basketball calendar of the year.
The chance to see 12 local high school boys basketball teams compete from 2pm to 8pm at Male High School next Tuesday is an opportunity to see which players have Derek Smith’s spirit of unlimited perseverance.
The involvement of Derek’s daughter, Sydney, and the presence in town of his son, Nolan, and wife, Monica, heightens the moment, especially two days after Father’s Day. Sydney and Nolan were everything to Derek, who was 36 when he died of a heart problem in 1996.
“This event was very, very important for us to bring back because when we moved back to Louisville (a year ago) we wanted to pick up where my dad left off,” Sydney Smith said.
“This city means a lot to my family. It means a lot to my dad. So to be involved in the community, specifically the basketball community is very, very, very special to us as a family.”
I will return to the basketball tournament, which will feature teams from Holy Cross, Moore, Male, Butler, Christian Academy, Central, Ballard, Western, Trinity, Evangel, Manual and DeSales.
But writing about Smith has always been special to me because, in more than 40 years of covering University of Louisville basketball, I have not met anyone with Smith’s captivating mix of intelligence, curiosity, determination, leadership and achievement.
The players on the 12 participating teams should know Derek Smith as more than a name in a 6-game basketball tournament. He was all about overcoming challenges, building relationships and never giving in to doubt.
Smith came to Louisville from Hogansville, Georgia, in the summer of 1978. He was 16. Skeptics called him a tweener, not good enough with the jump shot to play guard but not smooth enough with the basketball to do big things at small forward.
Scooter McCray was considered the best prospect in that group of Denny Crum freshmen. Jerry Eaves, who starred at Ballard High School, was the No. 2 recruit. Smith was no better than third or fourth.
Someone probably wrote that or told Smith that, because all he did over the next four seasons was terrorize every Louisville basketball practice with his boundless energy.
He became a reliable shooter making at least 54% of his attempts each season while shooting 57.7% and averaging 13.9 points for his career. He never missed a game, not one over 133 games that included 101 wins, two Final Fours and the school’s signature 1980 national title. If you check the record book, Smith remains the program’s No. 7 all-time leading scorer with 1,826 points.
There are a million Derek Smith stories. But few are as uplifting as the way he watched himself screw up in one of his early TV interviews and told himself he’d never screw up another one.
He practiced speaking more slowly and more clearly. He researched public speaking. He became a Go To Interview in Louisville’s locker room (back in the days when Louisville’s locker room was actually open to the media).
The NBA doubted Smith as much as the recruiting experts. I remember talking to Smith the day after the Golden Warriors selected him with the 35th pick in the second round of the 1982 Draft.
He was not disappointed. He was energetic. He was driven to do things you told him he couldn’t. As a rookie, Smith became more motivated when Golden State played him slowly, giving Smith less than 6 minutes per game. game on a miserable 30-52 team.
The Warriors released Smith in September 1983. Five days later, he signed with the San Diego Clippers, who were coached by Jim Lynam. Lynam believed in Derek Smith as U of L coach Denny Crum believed in Derek Smith.
At the end of his second season with the Clippers, Smith started. In his third season, Smith led the Clippers in scoring with 22.1 points per game. game where he scored 30 or more in 10 games.
One of those plays was the one below, when he dropped 33 on the Chicago Bulls, including a thunderous dunk on a rookie named Michael Jordan, a play that remains a YouTube sensation nearly four decades later.
Although Smith averaged more points per game than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Isiah Thomas or Hakeem Olajuwon that season, he was on a losing team, tucked away in San Diego (a basketball wasteland) and still considered a long-shot former second-round draft pick. .
All that changed in 1985-86.
The players in the Derek Smith Shootout on Tuesday will need to remember those numbers. In his fourth NBA season, Smith came out playing like a guy determined to win the scoring title and The MVP award.
This was his performance in his first 9 games:
*36 points, making 14 of 19 shots against Sacramento,
*26 vs. Houston.
*28 while going 12 for 20 against Portland.
*21 while making 9 of 16 against the Bulls.
*14 against the Knicks.
*35 while making 13 of 19 against Houston.
*29 while draining 11 of 12 free throws against Atlanta.
*29 against the Warriors.
*26 vs. Seattle.
The Clippers, a perennial loser, won their first five. Smith averaged 27.1 points while making 55.9% of his shots. People were talking about Derek Smith.
He was supposed to be an all-star. He was going to get a jumbo contract. He was going to the playoffs.
And then he wasn’t.
Smith suffered a terrible injury to his right knee. It was one of those stumbles where you don’t want to see the repeat. His season ended with surgery after 11 games.
Smith massively rehabbed his knee — and the Clippers rewarded him, in Clippers fashion, by trading him to Sacramento.
He was never the same player, but he played with the same spirit. Lynam went to Philadelphia wanting Smith in his locker room to push younger players like Charles Barkley, Johnny Dawkins and, yes, Kenny Payne. He played on the Sixers’ playoff teams in 1989 and 1990.
After one final season in Boston, Smith returned to Louisville to decide his future after playing basketball. He thought he wanted to be a coach, but he wanted to be sure.
Lynam and general manager John Nash were never in doubt where Smith was needed. Lynam replaced Wes Unseld as the Washington (then) Bullets head coach.
In 1994, he recruited Smith as his top assistant. He served the team for two seasons before his tragic death while on a cruise with his family and the Bullets’ organization in August 1996. Smith was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery with players from a number of NBA teams in attendance.
Derek Smith would have been an NBA head coach. Or he would have become the head coach at the University of Louisville. It was actually his dream job, one he would have pursued.
And when Derek Smith pursued something, he generally achieved it.
More than the scoreboard, that’s the message Derek Smith wants players in the Derek Smith Shootout to take away from this tournament.
“Community service was everything to my dad,” Sydney Smith said. “He believed in giving back from us at a very young age.
“I think your life is nothing without service and the ability to touch others.”
Derek Smith certainly touched others. And he has to do it again on Tuesday at Det Mandlige Gymnasium.
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