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 may turn out to be “the following Duncan Robinson” is that this: Robinson’s story didn’t finish there. He didn’t merely make the unprecedented climb from D-Three to the Last 4. He added one other monumental chapter when he subsequently began within the 2020 NBA Finals.
Is anybody able to recommend that Belmont’s Luke Smith is headed there? That’s a whole lot of warmth for a younger participant to deal with.
Allow us to, as a substitute, have a good time what Smith is reaching now as a 6-Zero junior guard at Belmont, in his first season since transferring from the College of the South, or Sewanee, as it’s generally identified. He’s averaging 14.eight factors and 46 p.c capturing from 3-point vary and filling the massive 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 getting into Thursday evening’s recreation at Tennessee Tech.
This doubtless is school basketball’s best climb since Robinson rose from freshman star at D-Three energy Williams School to senior common on Michigan’s 2018 Last 4 workforce.
“It was not as huge of an adjustment as I assumed it could be coming in,” Smith informed Sporting Information. “I performed higher than I assumed I used to be going to. However no, I by no means anticipated this.”
There was no means that he may have anticipated changing into a starter at capturing guard — as a result of he by no means performed the place till now. Some extent guard for his complete 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 opportunity of switching positions. The transfer has been seamless, largely as a result of Smith owns such a formidable understanding of the sport.
“He’s all the time on job. For a coach, you possibly can’t actually give any reward increased than that,” Belmont coach Casey Alexander informed SN. “It’s extra than simply scoring factors. We knew final yr: The man simply is aware of the way to play the sport.”
Smith practiced final season in opposition to the Belmont workforce that received the OVC title recreation over Murray State and was set for the NCAA Match till it was canceled. So he had an concept what it was prefer to play Division I hoops when the present season started.
That transition to Division I virtually 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 stated. “I informed 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.
“However it’s not a straightforward recreation. You’ve obtained to be targeted and prepared.”
Belmont has continued to excel whilst Smith’s scoring output has declined. He was such an infinite, rapid 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 informed SN. “If now we have an actual chief on the ground, it’s in all probability him. It goes properly past simply having the ability to shoot 3-pointers at a excessive share. The man is aware of the way to play. He will likely be a fantastic coach sometime, if that’s what he needs to do.”
Oh, he does. He didn’t all the time, although. After an All-State profession at Knoxville Catholic in Tennessee, he had affords to stroll on from a number of D-1 applications, together with Lipscomb, the place Alexander was head coach on the time. One huge motive Smith selected Sewanee was, “At that time in my life, I didn’t need basketball to be my full life. While 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 turn out to be.
“Throughout my two years there, I simply actually loved the preparation for basketball video games and stuff like that: going to follow daily, recreation planning, implementing a recreation plan, stuff like that,” Smith stated. “I do know now what I need to do after school is coach.
“So I used to be type of able to attempt it at the next stage. And for going into teaching, I don’t assume there’s a greater place to study or a greater particular person to study below than Coach Alexander and the remainder of the workers right here at Belmont.”
As a sophomore at Sewanee, Smith averaged 20.1 factors and shot 43.four p.c from 3-point vary. He led the workforce to its first berth within the NCAA Division III championships in additional than twenty years.
Smith started contemplating the transfer from D-Three after the coach who recruited him to Sewanee, Mick Hedgepeth, accepted a job on the Belmont workers. Alexander stated he all the time believed Smith had the flexibility 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 workers 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 informed SN. “There’s a really tremendous line between an elite Division III participant and participant at the next stage. He’s a winner. I feel that’s the easiest way to explain Luke. He’s the last word competitor and has nice instincts. Like a whole lot of school 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 needed the ball in huge moments, and he delivered.”
Smith clearly didn’t stroll from his final D-Three recreation into the Belmont lineup. He had a yr to compete in opposition to a superb workforce in follow and to turn out to be conversant in how the Bruins function their “old-school movement” offense, as Alexander calls it.
“There may be positively an adjustment while you go up a stage. However alternatively, if you happen to can play, you possibly can play,” Hedgepeth stated. “Luke can dribble, go and shoot a very excessive stage. That side of his recreation interprets.
“He clearly needed to sit out final season, however he labored with our teaching workers and power and conditioning coach and actually continued to enhance his recreation, added some items to his recreation: ending across the rim in opposition to longer competitors and determining the way to get pictures in our system. He was capable of alter to a brand new place; he already knew the performs from all 5 positions, anyway.”
Smith stated he didn’t have any hassle convincing his mother and father that the transfer from Sewanee could be finest for him.
“Clearly, your mother and father assume you’re the perfect participant,” he stated. “My dad needed me to attempt to play on the highest stage, as a result of he thought I may. He was extraordinarily excited after I informed 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 least get the chance to play within the NCAAs. Though he wouldn’t have competed in 2020, he was together with his teammates at Applebee’s final March, after they all discovered through tv that the event had been canceled.
In the event that they’re in a recreation on CBS or TNT in March, you already know the comparability to Robinson will likely be talked about.
“I’ve obtained some huge sneakers to fill if I’m ever going to get on that stage, for certain,” Smith stated.
And it could turn out to be obvious that there are greater than only one or two guys in Division III able to excelling at increased ranges of the sport.
“I performed some guys at D-3 — it’s only a regular factor in everybody’s thoughts. You hear D-Three and assume it’s a slight step above highschool basketball,” Smith stated. “There have been some nights I’d go on the market and simply get clamped up by somebody on a D-Three 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 if you happen to noticed extra folks come up, and also you’ll see one of these success a bit of greater than you’ve gotten. It received’t simply be Duncan Robinson.”