And as he did for everyone else, Curran told me one thing: Not so fast.
A lot of the hype surrounding Smith is based on his performances with the 16-and under Gauchos travel team, where he was, as one source told me, "the best player on the team despite being two years younger than everyone else."
That's where Curran drew the line, a discernible and completely reasonable line, in the proverbial sand.
"There's a big difference between summer ball and high school ball," Curran said. "[Smith] is learning that."
This is not to suggest that Smith is not every bit as good as people seem to think he is. He might be, but the jury's still out, of course. He's just a sophomore and while he is starting, he is not the star of this Stanners team, a squad that includes no less than two Division I players this year in Hofstra-bound Wendell Gibson and John Sikiric, a sharpshooter yet to commit to any college.
Curran does not want Smith burdened and he shouldn't be. Too many times a young star has taken the load of his team on his shoulders, trying to do more than is required, when what he really should be doing is learning the ropes. Smith has all the time in the world to learn the game the right way and not rush himself or be rushed by the likes of me.
Curran is absolutely right when he said that summer ball is not high school ball. And while some might thrive on that circuit, playing in a league as tough as the CHSAA day in and day out is a different ball of wax completely.
"I played with some guys in the summer who were unbelievable, but they couldn't play in school," Curran said. "Summer ball is more individual. I think there's a big difference."
Anyone who has ever seen some of these summer league teams play knows that flashy no-look passes and monster dunks are a product of the lack of defense usually displayed only in the NBA's All-Star Game. The problem with summer ball is that every game is an all-star game, with the best young players from throughout the city going toe-to-toe.
That a player like Smith can compete on that level does not mean that success will translate onto the court in the high school arena. By the same token, it doesn't mean he won't be a success either.
Defense is a part of high school ball, as are distributing the ball to the open man, outside shooting and fundamentals. If you can drive and score in the summer, that's all you sometimes need. It is a lot harder for players to drive and score against a disciplined team hustling to get back on defense.
This kind of "scouting" of young players is really unfair, but, unfortunately in my line of work you need to know who the next star will be and that means you have to take heed when someone tells you that so-and-so scored 30 for some AAU team against the top-ranked team from Piscataway.
And it is mostly a recent development. Twenty years ago I think most experts would be hard-pressed to tell you who the best incoming freshmen would be that year, but not anymore. In fact there are national magazines that list the top underclassmen in the country.
This kind of exposure for a young player can certainly buoy him with self-confidence and lead to positive things. For instance, I interviewed former Boston College and Cardozo star Duane Woodward after he set a school-scoring record at MS 158. I knew where he would be going to school the next year and made no bones about touting him.
Thankfully, Woodward was an exceptional young man, one who did not let such things go to his head. Not only did he turn out to be a standout player, he was also a solid student, never in trouble academically and someone who went on to start for four years on the Division I level.
Of course, that's the good side, but there is a negative side to be sure. Felipe Lopez had yet to play a game for St. John's when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, something he was never able to live down. His career at the school, while not a runaway success, was hardly the disappointment so many seem to think it was. It was failing to live up to the hype that cursed Lopez, the third all-time leading scorer in school history at St. John's.
The best thing for all concerned is to let young talented players, like Smith, grow and learn before we pile on praise. One of Curran's most famous former players, Kenny Anderson, got more press than anyone, but it wasn't until Anderson started lighting up the league, Curran said, that the media finally started to get to know him.
And that's how it should be, especially with kids so young. With achievement comes reward and recognition, not the promise or potential of it.
©2000 Community News Group
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