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Tarin Smith Looks To Vault UConn Backcourt Back Into National Spotlight

Smith hopes to provide more depth and leadership alongside Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball has been a major player on the graduate transfer market since 2012. UConn has relied on these transfers to inject experience and leadership to the roster each year, and Dan Hurley has extended the tradition for the 2018-19 season. The first of the two graduate transfers we’ll profile is Tarin Smith, who comes to Storrs after spending the last two years in the Atlantic 10 at Duquesne University.

Smith spent the first two years of his college career in the Big 12 with Nebraska, but even before that had gotten a taste of the Hurley experience. Smith attended the prolific high school hoops powerhouse St. Anthony, out of Jersey City, New Jersey. At the helm of that program was none other than Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, father of Dan Hurley. Smith was well sought after this past spring, with Rutgers, Seton Hall and Oklahoma all vying for the experienced guard. In the end, UConn probably has new assistant coach Kenya Hunter, who coached Smith during his freshman year at Nebraska, to thank.

It’s clear Hurley has high hopes for the guard, as he was brought in along with seniors Eric Cobb and Jalen Adams to represent the squad at the American Athletic Conference Media Day.

Smith had this to say about Hunter at the AAC Media Day earlier today:

“I’ve known Kenya since I was a freshman. He’s someone I trust in the college basketball world. That’s always important; playing for people you trust that love you and truly want the best for you is important.”

Tarin was named the A-10 Sixth Man of the Year in 2017-18 after averaging 12.4 points, 3.2 assists, and 3.0 rebounds off the bench. If those numbers sound familiar, it’s because they are eerily similar to that of Lasan Kromah and Antoine Anderson, both of which averaged double-digits in the A-10 before coming to UConn as graduate transfers. While the latter may have caused a few headaches among Husky fans, both were ultimately invaluable to the team from a leadership and ball-handling perspective.

Having played against Rhode Island and Hurley in the A-10, Smith has a unique vantage point on his new head coach.

“It’s interesting just to see differences between him on the sideline and him at practice every day. But you still see the intensity, the passion for the game. That’s why I came to play for him,” Smith said.

Smith’s impact this year will be two-fold. On the court, he will be another ball-handler that can allow Jalen Adams to slide off the ball. It’s no secret that Adams has had too much on his plate the last two years. Now instead of running the offense, Adams will be running through screens and hopefully generating easier buckets. Defensively, Smith can bring the same up-and-in defensive ball pressure the Hurley family loves to implement. And at 6-foot-3, he fits the Hurley mold of bigger, physical guards.

With Smith, UConn suddenly boasts a talented and deep backcourt. When asked how the group of guards look, Smith had high praise for his teammates.

“We’re looking really good right now. We expect our guard corps to be really big for us this year. We expect to be one of the best in the country, and we’re excited to get started,” Smith said.

Off the court, Smith will be tasked with maintaining the work ethic and mindset change that has been drilled into this UConn team by its new head coach. When asked what it means to end his career at a program like UConn, Smith was excited to be with and learn from Hurley.

“It means everything. It’s a little weird, coming in being the new guy and trying to fit in and stand out at the same time,” Smith said. “But it’s something I wanted to do; UConn is a dream school of mine. Me finishing here is a testament to me staying strong throughout my whole career.”

UConn has had tremendous success in picking out graduate transfers. R.J. Evans, who is now an assistant at UNC Asheville, was brought in during Kevin Ollie’s first year. While he didn’t pop out on the stat sheet, he was lauded by teammates for his leadership and experience and set the tone for graduate transfers to come in and be a contributing piece.

Lasan Kromah’s importance to the 2014 title run cannot be understated, and he now plies his trade in the French Pro A League. Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller may not have met the (unfairly) lofty expectations placed on them in 2015-16, but the former will play in Greece next year and the latter plays for the Salt Lake City Stars in the NBA G-League. Antwoine Anderson and David Onuorah were asked to do too much amid a strife-filled season last year, but they likely could have proven much more valuable on a more experienced roster.

Overall, graduate transfers and UConn are have historically been a good fit, and Smith seems no different. The Huskies bolster their experience and depth at guard, while Smith gets to showcase his talents at a high level with the hopes of parlaying that exposure into playing basketball professionally next year.