Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Sylvan Hills' Smith takes pride in Arkansas hoops talent
Sylvan Hills guard Nick Smith shoots a 3-pointer during a game against Little Rock Hall on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, at Cirks Arena in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE While Sylvan Hills junior baketball standout Nick Smith didn’t play in the Grind and Advance Bubble Challenge in Little Rock this past weekend, he did look on at the Arkansas talent on hand with a lot of pride.
Smith (6-4, 175), the No. 42 player nationally in the 2022 class by 247 Sports, is one of five in-state juniors who have been offered by Arkansas. Four of them are in the top 100 of the rankings.
“I just watched my team play and helped coach a little bit,” Smith said. “I feel like Arkansas players get slept on, and I think the organizers did a great job in putting on the event since we haven’t really had any tournaments going on and giving everybody a chance to compete.”
Smith joins Magnolia guard Darian Ford (6-3, 190), Morrilton small forward Joseph Pinion (6-6, 180), North Little Rock center Kel’el Ware (6-11, 210) and Little Rock Mills’ Javion Guy-King (6-5, 200) as the 2022 in-state prospects the Razorbacks have offered.
Ford is ranked 81st, Pinion 89th and Ware 93rd in 247's rankings. All are four-star prospects.
It is a class that follows up a 2020 group that also featured a quartet of four-star players and top-100 prospects in Arkansas signees Moses Moody, KK Robinson, Davonte Davis and Jaylin Williams, and Auburn signee Chris Moore.
“I feel like we have some great basketball players in Arkansas lately, especially in my class,” Smith said. “It is pretty tough to pick between the 2020 and 2022 classes. You can argue who is better. I feel like our class has too many people not to be on top.
"I think we can compete with anyone in other states.”
Smith holds offers from Arkansas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, St. John’s, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Texas, St. Louis and other programs. He is also receiving interest from North Carolina and Kansas.
“Recruiting is going good,” Smith said. “I am just enjoying it right now and talking to everybody.”
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman and his staff have made sure Smith knows he is a priority for a program that has loaded up with both in-state prospects and transfers.
“I have a great relationship with all of the Arkansas coaching staff,” Smith said. “I feel like they have a chip on their shoulder this year. I think they have a lot of talent of the team this year. Obviously, they did a hell of a job recruiting this year. I think they are going to go pretty far in the (NCAA Tournament) this year.”
Seven of the Razorbacks' 12 players on scholarship this season are from Arkansas.
“Arkansas certainly has my attention with what they are doing,” Smith said. “I know a lot of the guys up there now and they are telling me great things about what is going on.”
While the covid-19 pandemic shut down AAU action this spring and summer, Smith did get to attend a pair of August events associated with his Brad Beal AAU program.
“I played in the Brad Beal (Elite) Showcase and I went to his Crossroads camp,” Smith said. “I felt like it went pretty well. I was super ready to play this summer, but obviously it didn’t happen. I did feel good preparing for that stage and playing on that high level, so that felt good. It felt good getting back on the court and showing out with the top 20 or so players in the country.
“There was a lot of great talent there and great competition. I feel like I was one of the top players there.”
He also took advantage of the chance to work with and play summer basketball against former Arkansas star Daryl Macon, who has played in the NBA and has recently signed to play in Turkey.
“It was a great opportunity for me and I think it helps me get better going up against guys like that,” Smith said. “We are a lot alike.”
Smith averaged 21.3 points, three rebounds and three steals per game as a sophomore. He scored a season-high 45 points against Pine Bluff. For the season, he shot 52 percent on 2-point attempts, 35 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent at the free throw line.
“I am trying to get as healthy as I can be for this season because I am going to have to play the whole game this season," Smith said. "I have been keeping my shot and my ballhandling right."
Smith expects Sylvan Hills to have a chance to win it all this season. The Bears finished 20-8 last season and lost in the Class 5A Tournament quarterfinals to eventual co-champion West Memphis.
“We had three seniors last season and all three were starters,” Smith said. “That’s a big loss, but I feel like somebody is just going to step up. I believe in my team and I feel like we can compete for the state title.”
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