Scoochie Smith had just sat down for an interview at the Cronin Center, where the Dayton Flyers practice, when his old teammate, Jeremiah Bonsu, walked through the door Tuesday. They hugged. They posed for a photo together as they sometimes did on the bench late in games during their time with the Flyers.
Minutes later, trainer Mike Mulcahey, who sat on the end of the bench throughout Smith’s four seasons, greeted the former Dayton point guard. Everyone who passed through the lobby recognized Smith and said hello.
As popular as Smith was from 2013, when he backed up Khari Price on the Elite Eight team, to 2017, when he and his fellow seniors set a school record for wins by a class, his name may carry even more weight now. Part of that has to do with what happened to the team after he left — a 14-17 season ended a streak of four straight NCAA tournament berths — but mostly it has to do with how he carried himself throughout his career and the big moments he provided during the most recent golden age of Dayton basketball.
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Smith, who finished his Dayton career with 1,289 points and ranks 28th in school history, will get to bask in that limelight whenever he returns to Dayton for the rest of his life. He was back Tuesday for the first time since his professional career began. It wasn’t quite the same, but you could say it was good to be home.
“It’s a little different being an alum of the university,” Smith said. “It feels different being back with the guys. It feels good, though.”
Then and now: Scoochie Smith and Jeremiah Bonsu in 2015 after beating Providence and at UD’s Cronin Center today. pic.twitter.com/KA0IXVEJ4R— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) March 27, 2018
Scoochie down under
This was Smith’s first chance to visit Dayton since he left the United States last summer. After going undrafted and playing with the Boston Celtics in the NBA Summer League, he started his pro career with the Cairns Taipans in Australia.
It wasn’t an easy decision for the Bronx, N.Y., native to play there. Smith wavered between “betting on himself” by playing in the NBA G League, which would have given him a chance to impress NBA scouts, and gaining more financial stability by signing to play in Australia.
On the day he was scheduled to fly to Australia, Smith woke up and had a change of heart. At that point, he leaned toward playing in the G League. He called his agent, Sean Kennedy, and said he didn’t want to go to Australia.
“Me and my agent had a back and forth,” Smith said. “He was just telling me it would be best if I would go.”
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In the end, Smith listened to Kennedy. He played in all 27 games for Cairns, averaging 10.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
“Australia helped me mentally,” Smith said. “I learned things I needed to learn.”
By that, Smith meant he learned how to be more aggressive and how to develop the professional mindset needed to survive the ups and downs of pro basketball. He played in a league full of the top Australian talent and with numerous skilled American players.
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“There were a lot of borderline (NBA) guys,” Smith said, “and guys who have just come out of the league and guys who have turned down contract offers from the NBA. It was really competitive.”
Off the court, Smith didn’t have a tough time. He described himself as a person who knows how to adapt. There were differences, of course. He took a number of photos of kangaroos for one. The food wasn’t as seasoned as it is in the United States, Smith said. The portions often were so small, he sometimes had to order two meals.
“They speak English and have some similar foods,” Smith said, “so the transition wasn’t too bad. I didn’t mind it too much. At times I forgot I was in Australia until I started driving on the other side of the road.”
Scoochie in Ohio
When Smith signed with Cairns, he did so with the knowledge that he would be able to return to the United States before the end of the NBA G League season. The Canton Charge, a Cleveland Cavaliers affiliate, signed him on March 3, and he appeared in eight games.
“I was happy with the coaching staff and the organization,” Smith said. “They took care of me in my three weeks there. Everything I asked for, I got. I was treated really nice.”
Smith was an instant success, averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He shot 51.9 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from 3-point range. He had his best game — 26 points and 10 assists — in the final game March 23.
“The biggest thing for us he is controlled the pace of the game,” Charge coach Nate Reinking told the Canton Repository. “When he needed to slow it down and run something, he did it. He’s a true point guard and he ran the show. There were times this year when we could get wild and he reined us in. He ran our stuff. When we needed a bucket, he knew what to do.”
Smith’s next move is to play in the NBA Summer League again. He would love to play for the Cavs because he’s familiar and comfortable with the organization because of his experience in Canton.
Smith’s ultimate goal is the same as everyone else’s in the G League: to play in the NBA. His first year in pro basketball made him more confident he can get there. At the same time, he’s also realistic.
“I feel like I improved what I needed to improve,” Smith said. “You never know. You just keep upping your game and anything can happen. At the same time, you watch guys like Russell Westbrook and James Harden and think, ‘Am I ready for that?’ Being a professional made me realize when I was in college, I wasn’t actually ready to be a professional. You learn a lot more things that you didn’t know 365 days ago. I thought I was good enough when I was in college, but I don’t think I was ready.”
Smith watched some his former teammates and some of the newer Flyers work out at the Cronin Center on Tuesday. He watched the team struggle from afar and admired the improvements made by players such as Darrell Davis and Trey Landers. On the other hand, it wasn’t easy not being able to root for his alma mater in the NCAA tournament. Dayton’s season ended March 5 with a 77-72 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“It was good to see the individual accomplishments and improvements,” Smith said. “I just want them to have that same success I had. I wished they could have done what we did. Hopefully, they’ll bring it together. This is only coach (Anthony) Grant’s second year.”
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As for his former coach, Archie Miller, Smith said Indiana did better than he figured they would, finishing 16-15 despite a roster hurt by offseason departures and injuries. Of course, it couldn’t have been an enjoyable season for a coach that won 102 games the previous four seasons and guided the Flyers to the NCAA tournament every season.
“I haven’t talked to (Miller) since the beginning of the season,” Smith said with a laugh. “Archie doesn’t like to lose, so he doesn’t want to talk to nobody.”