The issue with suggesting that any specific basketball participant who chooses to ascend from the NCAA’s Division III to its highest stage of competitors would possibly develop into “the subsequent Duncan Robinson” is that this: Robinson’s story didn’t finish there. He didn’t merely make the unprecedented climb from D-3 to the Remaining 4. He added one other monumental chapter when he subsequently began within the 2020 NBA Finals.
Is anybody able to counsel that Belmont’s Luke Smith is headed there? That’s plenty of warmth for a younger participant to deal with.
Allow us to, as an alternative, have a good time what Smith is reaching now as a 6-0 junior guard at Belmont, in his first season since transferring from the College of the South, or Sewanee, as it’s generally recognized. He’s averaging 14.8 factors and 46 % capturing from 3-point vary and filling the large perimeter-scoring void created when Tyler Scanlon accomplished his profession with the game-winning basket within the Ohio Valley Convention title recreation and Adam Kunkel subsequently transferred to Xavier. The Bruins are 12-1 and first within the league coming into Thursday night time’s recreation at Tennessee Tech.
This doubtless is faculty basketball’s best climb since Robinson rose from freshman star at D-3 energy Williams School to senior common on Michigan’s 2018 Remaining 4 workforce.
“It was not as large of an adjustment as I believed it could be coming in,” Smith advised Sporting Information. “I performed higher than I believed I used to be going to. However no, I by no means anticipated this.”
There was no manner that he may have anticipated turning into a starter at capturing guard — as a result of he by no means performed the place till now. A degree guard for his whole basketball profession, Smith anticipated, after spending the 2019-20 season establishing eligibility, to again up start line Grayson Murphy. However Kunkel’s switch opened the potential of switching positions. The transfer has been seamless, principally as a result of Smith owns such a formidable understanding of the sport.
“He’s at all times on job. For a coach, you possibly can’t actually give any reward greater than that,” Belmont coach Casey Alexander advised SN. “It’s extra than simply scoring factors. We knew final yr: The man simply is aware of the right way to play the sport.”
Smith practiced final season towards the Belmont workforce that received the OVC title recreation over Murray State and was set for the NCAA Event till it was canceled. So he had an thought what it was prefer to play Division I hoops when the present season started.
That transition to Division I nearly appeared too simple, although. He scored 20 factors in his first recreation, a 95-78 victory over Howard. He scored in double figures in his first 9.
“I can’t let you know how nervous I used to be earlier than that first recreation,” Smith mentioned. “I advised myself I used to be going to shoot any shot that was open. I wasn’t going to shrink back. As a result of we actually solely had eight guys and 4 perimeter gamers, as a result of we had some guys again in Nashville due to COVID and stuff. I knew I used to be going to play a bunch no matter how I used to be taking part in.
“Nevertheless it’s not a simple recreation. You’ve received to be targeted and prepared.”
Belmont has continued to excel at the same time as Smith’s scoring output has declined. He was such an unlimited, instant success that opponents started orienting their defensive recreation plans to stopping him, which has led to him passing extra typically (14 assists over the previous 4 video games) and capturing much less (double-figure shot makes an attempt solely as soon as in that stretch).
“If now we have a coach on the ground, it’s him,” Alexander advised SN. “If now we have an actual chief on the ground, it’s most likely him. It goes effectively past simply with the ability to shoot 3-pointers at a excessive share. The man is aware of the right way to play. He might be an incredible coach sometime, if that’s what he needs to do.”
Oh, he does. He didn’t at all times, although. After an All-State profession at Knoxville Catholic in Tennessee, he had presents to stroll on from a number of D-1 applications, together with Lipscomb, the place Alexander was head coach on the time. One large motive Smith selected Sewanee was, “At that time in my life, I didn’t need basketball to be my full life. Once you’re on the D-1 stage, it’s positively extra part of your life and it’s rather more of a spotlight.”
Now, that’s precisely what he needs basketball to develop into.
“Throughout my two years there, I simply actually loved the preparation for basketball video games and stuff like that: going to observe on daily basis, recreation planning, implementing a recreation plan, stuff like that,” Smith mentioned. “I do know now what I wish to do after faculty is coach.
“So I used to be sort of able to strive it at the next stage. And for going into teaching, I don’t suppose there’s a greater place to be taught or a greater particular person to be taught below than Coach Alexander and the remainder of the employees right here at Belmont.”
As a sophomore at Sewanee, Smith averaged 20.1 factors and shot 43.4 % from 3-point vary. He led the workforce to its first berth within the NCAA Division III championships in additional than 20 years.
Smith started contemplating the transfer from D-3 after the coach who recruited him to Sewanee, Mick Hedgepeth, accepted a job on the Belmont employees. Alexander mentioned he at all times believed Smith had the power to excel in Division I and welcomed him to the Bruins.
The fascinating coincidence to this story? Hedgepeth had simply been employed to the teaching employees at Williams when Robinson was deciding whether or not to make his transfer to D-1.
“I knew Luke was an elite participant at that stage,” Hedgepeth advised SN. “There’s a really superb line between an elite Division III participant and a great participant at the next stage. He’s a winner. I feel that’s one of the best ways to explain Luke. He’s the final word competitor and has nice instincts. Like plenty of faculty gamers, he made an enormous bounce from his freshman to his sophomore yr.
“His sophomore yr within the convention event, I feel he was 18-of-24 from three, had 90 factors in three video games and simply led our workforce and willed our workforce to victory. That was a efficiency I’ll always remember. He wished the ball in large moments, and he delivered.”
Smith clearly didn’t stroll from his final D-3 recreation into the Belmont lineup. He had a yr to compete towards a superb workforce in observe and to develop into accustomed to how the Bruins function their “old-school movement” offense, as Alexander calls it.
“There may be positively an adjustment if you go up a stage. However however, when you can play, you possibly can play,” Hedgepeth mentioned. “Luke can dribble, cross and shoot an awfully excessive stage. That facet of his recreation interprets.
“He clearly needed to sit out final season, however he labored with our teaching employees and energy and conditioning coach and actually continued to enhance his recreation, added some items to his recreation: ending across the rim towards longer competitors and determining the right way to get pictures in our system. He was capable of modify to a brand new place; he already knew the performs from all 5 positions, anyway.”
Smith mentioned he didn’t have any hassle convincing his dad and mom that the transfer from Sewanee could be finest for him.
“Clearly, your dad and mom suppose you’re the most effective participant,” he mentioned. “My dad wished me to attempt to play on the highest stage, as a result of he thought I may. He was extraordinarily excited after I advised him about it.”
Though he could not get to expertise all that Robinson’s transfer from Williams to Michigan engendered — the NCAA championship recreation, the NBA — Smith positively needs to at the very least get the chance to play within the NCAAs. Though he wouldn’t have competed in 2020, he was along with his teammates at Applebee’s final March, once they all realized through tv that the event had been canceled.
In the event that they’re in a recreation on CBS or TNT in March, you understand the comparability to Robinson might be talked about.
“I’ve received some large footwear to fill if I’m ever going to get on that stage, for positive,” Smith mentioned.
And it could develop into obvious that there are greater than only one or two guys in Division III able to excelling at greater ranges of the sport.
“I performed some guys at D-3 — it’s only a regular factor in everybody’s thoughts. You hear D-3 and suppose it’s a slight step above highschool basketball,” Smith mentioned. “There have been some nights I’d go on the market and simply get clamped up by somebody on a D-3 program and I’d rating 5 factors or one thing. There are actually, actually good gamers at each single stage.
“I wouldn’t be shocked when you noticed extra individuals come up, and also you’ll see this sort of success slightly greater than you will have. It received’t simply be Duncan Robinson.”