Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Ranking reiterates Smith cut from different cloth
West boy's Nick Smith Jr., participates in the first half of the McDonald's All-American Boys basketball game Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
FAYETTEVILLE — The updated 247 Sports class of 2022 basketball player rankings released Wednesday reiterated that Nick Smith Jr. is cut from a different cloth.
Smith, the new top-rated player in the country by the outlet, has not yet arrived on campus but has already found himself in the same sentence as one of the best players in Arkansas program history in Corliss Williamson. He was also the No. 1 player in the nation as a senior at Russellville in the early 1990s.
When Smith signed with the Razorbacks in November, he was considered the No. 8 prospect nationally, according to 247 Sports, and No. 3 combo guard. But after spearheading a state title run at North Little Rock, competing for Team USA and in a number of elite-level high school events, his stock rose this spring.
He was named most valuable player of the Jordan Brand Classic in Chicago after finishing with 27 points on 7 of 13 shooting — 5 of 7 from three-point range — as well as 4 assists and 3 rebounds.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman was thrilled with the news, but likely not shocked by it on account of the incoming guard’s competitive nature.
“He can score the ball,” Musselman told Field of 68 at the 2022 Final Four in New Orleans. “He’s got great court vision. He is really talented. Long arms, can defend. But probably above all else he’s really competitive, hates to lose.
“He has leadership. Alpha. His personality is an Alpha.”
What else makes Smith unlike any player Musselman has recruited and signed is the manner in which he thinks the game. He likens Smith’s basketball IQ to that of Moses Moody, who was SEC freshman of the year in 2021 and went on to be a lottery pick of the Golden State Warriors.
Musselman told Little Rock radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 that Smith texted him after 11 p.m. last week for a plan of attack against Tennessee’s pick-and-roll defense.
“That’s from a high school senior who has not stepped foot on a college campus,” Musselman added. “We know what Nick’s competitive nature is. We know his will to win."
As of now, it appears Smith is on a similar trajectory as Moody. On May 7, ESPN draft analysts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz projected Smith as the No. 3 overall pick of the Orlando Magic in the 2023 NBA Draft.
“Nick is as smart as any player I’ve ever seen,” Musselman said in November. “He plays a different position (than Moody). He can score the ball right out of the gate.”
Schmitz wrote Smith was one of the winners of the high school all-star circuit and has positioned himself to be the first college player selected in next year's draft. He noted the guard has room to grow as a decision-maker and ball handler against pressure.
But there is obviously a lot to like with Smith, who has star power from Day 1 with the Razorbacks.
“We've seen shifty shot-creating guards like Smith before, but it's a rarity when they also share the defensive motor and intensity that he brings to the court,” Schmitz added. “He routinely shows real leadership qualities as well, getting on teammates for lack of effort or taking ownership of his own mistakes.”
Upon Smith signing with Arkansas, Musselman detailed the uniqueness of his relationship with the guard. Their bond developed in a quick, positive way when he visited, and his comfortability with the Razorbacks’ staff did the same.
Recruiting conversations, Musselman said, can feel like pulling teeth at times. But not with Smith.
He is hopeful Smith’s on-court play in 2022-23 will be as free-flowing as their talks became.
“Nick is a special, special player,” Musselman said. “He was as good as any player at the highest, highest level of AAU. I don't think there was anybody at the guard spot...I don't think I saw anybody even close to him at times."
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