This evening I'll be driving up to Milwaukee to see the Huskies in person for the third time this year. I hadn't seen a UConn game in person for a year and half until I took in UConn's matchup with DePaul last week. I'd seen almost all of their games on TV and felt that I had a good feel for the team, but when you're not in the stands regularly you can forget just how much of the game you're missing. Since I got to see the DePaul game and Saturday's matchup with Tennessee in person, there are a couple of things about this team that I have a much greater appreciation for, and at the top of that list is the play of Roscoe Smith.
Now, there are some things that shine through on TV. Take someone like Shabazz Napier, who was born to play in front of a camera. His aggressive on-ball defense attracts the eye and his penchant for taking (and often making) ridiculous shots means you can't ignore him for too long on offense either. If Napier is making a play you're going to know.
Smith isn't that type of player though. I think he is starting to emerge and will be a star before you know it, but for now all the little things he's doing well can fly under the radar. Take last week's game against Villanova. Smith only had two points, but he might have had the biggest impact on the game of any Husky not named Kemba Walker because of his defense. The freshman held senior Corey Stokes to just three points, in large part because he limited Stokes to just six shots (he averages over 10 a game). It was an incredible performance, but if you're not looking for that on TV, its probably not going to jump out at you right away.
In person though, it's a different story.
Both times I've seen Smith play my main reaction has been something like this: "damn that guy seems like he is everywhere." Smith is 6'8", but he's really long and he knows how to use that that to his advantage to seem bigger. He also has a knack for getting himself into the right place at the right time on key plays. If, for some reason, Alex Oriakhi is out of position or the ball takes a weird bounce off the rim, it's a pretty safe bet that Smith will be there to pick it up. He's also been coming up with some nice blocks lately (eight in his past three games).
It certainly does not hurt that he's been peaking at the right time. He's averaging nine PPG over UConn's last six games and save the DePaul matchup he's played over 30 minutes in every game since South Florida. Sure, he did have the dumb full-court heave against Texas, but other than that he almost never turns over the ball and he shoots a pretty high percentage too (41.9 percent from the floor, 35.9 percent from 3).
Knowing my luck, I've almost certainly jinxed Smith by writing this, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm thrilled to see him play again. Obviously all eyes are going to be on Kemba Walker, but if you get a chance pay some special attention to Smith. The kid is going to be a star someday soon and it is a joy to watch him grow into it.
Note: My trip to see UConn take on Tennessee was part of the MyBigEastVolvo promotion we're taking part in. I'll have several posts up this week reviewing my trip back to Storrs to check out the Huskies.