Clint Smith doesn’t hold any illusions about his basketball future.
He’s a classic tweener — a term given to a player with a body suited for one position but possessing skills befitting another — and he knows that doesn’t bode well for a college career.
“This is probably the last year I’ll be playing basketball. I would love to play in college, but that’s the reality of it,” said Smith, a 6-foot-1 forward who was blessed with an abundance of heart and a desire to mix it up in the paint.
But the basketball gods failed to deliver a 6-8 frame to go with it.
Growing up in Aiken, S.C., Smith used to being the biggest kid in school, towering over his elementary school classmates. So naturally, he felt it best to learn the big man’s game.
“I’ve always kind of preferred contact down low,” he said. “I’ve never really been a shooting threat.”
But there is an upside to the story. Because Smith looks like a guard, teams will often match him up with a smaller opponent, allowing him to take advantage when he gets the ball down low. And he shows no fear going up against bigger players.
That attitude has made Smith one of the CBBN’s most consistent players. He has scored in double figures in seven of the Bombers’ first eight games and leads Richland at 14.9 points a game. He has been a key figure in several of the team’s biggest wins, including a 54-51 victory over Southridge in mid-December, when he scored nine first-half points and led a balanced attack with 14 points.
“Every kid goes out and shoots the 3 in the driveway or works on dribbling. A lot of those things you don’t have to teach,” said Bombers coach Earl Streufert. “He’s willing to stick his nose in there. He does good work around the basket. He’s a tough rebounder and an unorthodox scorer. He just finds a way to make shots go in.”
Nowhere was that more evident than Richland’s 70-67 road win over Hermiston, where Smith scored a career-high 29 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in a game where the Bombers’ main inside threat, Calvin Douglas, left the game after twisting his left ankle.
“(Smith) didn’t hit a 3, and he only had one free throw,” Streufert said. “He just does what is needed at the time. He’s not super polished in any part of his game, but he makes up for it with such a great work ethic.”
Sure, Smith may not look like Michael Jordan on the court, but he does share a motivational trait with perhaps the most successful basketball player in history. Smith remembers being cut from the eighth-grade basketball team at Kennedy Middle School in Aiken, leaving him with an unsavory memory that left him in tears.
Like Jordan, who as a high school sophomore was cut from the Laney varsity squad in Wilmington, N.C., Smith used the experience as a reminder to never leave anything to chance when it came to being prepared for a practice or a game.
“I can still remember being in the car crying with my mom,” he said. “That was when I decided to start taking that extra step. That was a big decision to start working harder.”
After his family moved to Richland his freshman year, Smith impressed Streufert with his work ethic and set himself up for a chance to play varsity ball in his junior season. But he instead endured another hardship, breaking his left ankle in the Bombers’ first football game of the 2007 season.
The injury didn’t stop him from coming out for basketball, but the limited mobility in his ankle — which is still held together with three pins and a metal plate — betrayed his hopes to join the varsity.
“Man, that was tougher than you can imagine,” said Smith, who spent most of the season on JV but did get a varsity call-up in time to join the team at the 4A state tournament, where it placed eighth.
This season, Smith has been injury-free and seems to be enjoying his final season on the hardwood. His teammates haven’t had to look very hard to see that he’s having a good time.
“The biggest thing to me is his smile. He’s always smiling — mostly after big plays,” said Douglas, who has developed a friendship with Smith while riding to and from school and practice. “You see his teeth and everything.”
Smith has benefited from Douglas’ abilities on court, finding himself on the receiving end of many an outlet pass from the sophomore rebounding machine.
“You can almost guarantee that Calvin will get the rebound, and I’ll try to outhustle guys downcourt,” Smith said. “I get a bunch of fast-break points.”
At this time next year, Smith, a dean’s list student at Richland, will likely be studying engineering at the University of South Carolina, where he’s already been accepted. Of course, the thought of walking on to the Gamecocks basketball team is a distant dream.
But he hasn’t ruled out playing a little intramural ball, just for the fun of it.