The issue with suggesting that any explicit basketball participant who chooses to ascend from the NCAA’s Division III to its highest stage of competitors may develop into “the following Duncan Robinson” is that this: Robinson’s story didn’t finish there. He didn’t merely make the unprecedented climb from D-3 to the Last 4. He added one other monumental chapter when he subsequently began within the 2020 NBA Finals.
Is anybody able to counsel that Belmont’s Luke Smith is headed there? That’s a number of warmth for a younger participant to deal with.
Allow us to, as a substitute, have fun what Smith is reaching now as a 6-0 junior guard at Belmont, in his first season since transferring from the College of the South, or Sewanee, as it’s generally identified. He’s averaging 14.8 factors and 46 % capturing from 3-point vary and filling the large perimeter-scoring void created when Tyler Scanlon accomplished his profession with the game-winning basket within the Ohio Valley Convention title sport and Adam Kunkel subsequently transferred to Xavier. The Bruins are 12-1 and first within the league coming into Thursday evening’s sport at Tennessee Tech.
This doubtless is faculty basketball’s biggest climb since Robinson rose from freshman star at D-3 energy Williams School to senior common on Michigan’s 2018 Last 4 group.
“It was not as huge of an adjustment as I assumed it could be coming in,” Smith instructed Sporting Information. “I performed higher than I assumed I used to be going to. However no, I by no means anticipated this.”
There was no means that he might have anticipated changing into a starter at capturing guard — as a result of he by no means performed the place till now. Some extent guard for his complete basketball profession, Smith anticipated, after spending the 2019-20 season establishing eligibility, to again up place to begin Grayson Murphy. However Kunkel’s switch opened the opportunity of switching positions. The transfer has been seamless, principally as a result of Smith owns such a formidable understanding of the sport.
“He’s at all times on job. For a coach, you possibly can’t actually give any reward increased than that,” Belmont coach Casey Alexander instructed SN. “It’s extra than simply scoring factors. We knew final yr: The man simply is aware of play the sport.”
Smith practiced final season in opposition to the Belmont group that received the OVC title sport over Murray State and was set for the NCAA Match till it was canceled. So he had an concept what it was prefer to play Division I hoops when the present season started.
That transition to Division I nearly appeared too simple, although. He scored 20 factors in his first sport, a 95-78 victory over Howard. He scored in double figures in his first 9.
“I can’t let you know how nervous I used to be earlier than that first sport,” Smith mentioned. “I instructed myself I used to be going to shoot any shot that was open. I wasn’t going to shrink back. As a result of we actually solely had eight guys and 4 perimeter gamers, as a result of we had some guys again in Nashville due to COVID and stuff. I knew I used to be going to play a bunch no matter how I used to be enjoying.
“However it’s not a simple sport. You’ve received to be centered and prepared.”
Belmont has continued to excel whilst Smith’s scoring output has declined. He was such an unlimited, fast success that opponents started orienting their defensive sport plans to stopping him, which has led to him passing extra usually (14 assists over the previous 4 video games) and capturing much less (double-figure shot makes an attempt solely as soon as in that stretch).
“If we have now a coach on the ground, it’s him,” Alexander instructed SN. “If we have now an actual chief on the ground, it’s in all probability him. It goes effectively past simply with the ability to shoot 3-pointers at a excessive share. The man is aware of play. He shall be a fantastic coach sometime, if that’s what he desires to do.”
Oh, he does. He didn’t at all times, although. After an All-State profession at Knoxville Catholic in Tennessee, he had affords to stroll on from a number of D-1 applications, together with Lipscomb, the place Alexander was head coach on the time. One huge cause Smith selected Sewanee was, “At that time in my life, I didn’t need basketball to be my full life. Whenever you’re on the D-1 stage, it’s positively extra part of your life and it’s far more of a spotlight.”
Now, that’s precisely what he desires basketball to develop into.
“Throughout my two years there, I simply actually loved the preparation for basketball video games and stuff like that: going to follow each day, sport planning, implementing a sport plan, stuff like that,” Smith mentioned. “I do know now what I need to do after faculty is coach.
“So I used to be form of able to strive it at a better stage. And for going into teaching, I don’t assume there’s a greater place to study or a greater individual to study beneath than Coach Alexander and the remainder of the workers right here at Belmont.”
As a sophomore at Sewanee, Smith averaged 20.1 factors and shot 43.4 % from 3-point vary. He led the group to its first berth within the NCAA Division III championships in additional than 20 years.
Smith started contemplating the transfer from D-3 after the coach who recruited him to Sewanee, Mick Hedgepeth, accepted a job on the Belmont workers. Alexander mentioned he at all times believed Smith had the power to excel in Division I and welcomed him to the Bruins.
The attention-grabbing coincidence to this story? Hedgepeth had simply been employed to the teaching workers at Williams when Robinson was deciding whether or not to make his transfer to D-1.
“I knew Luke was an elite participant at that stage,” Hedgepeth instructed SN. “There’s a really advantageous line between an elite Division III participant and an excellent participant at a better stage. He’s a winner. I believe that’s the easiest way to explain Luke. He’s the final word competitor and has nice instincts. Like a number of faculty gamers, he made an enormous soar from his freshman to his sophomore yr.
“His sophomore yr within the convention event, I believe he was 18-of-24 from three, had 90 factors in three video games and simply led our group and willed our group to victory. That was a efficiency I’ll always remember. He wished the ball in huge moments, and he delivered.”
Smith clearly didn’t stroll from his final D-3 sport into the Belmont lineup. He had a yr to compete in opposition to a superb group in follow and to develop into aware of how the Bruins function their “old-school movement” offense, as Alexander calls it.
“There’s positively an adjustment whenever you go up a stage. However however, for those who can play, you possibly can play,” Hedgepeth mentioned. “Luke can dribble, cross and shoot a very excessive stage. That facet of his sport interprets.
“He clearly needed to sit out final season, however he labored with our teaching workers and power and conditioning coach and actually continued to enhance his sport, added some items to his sport: ending across the rim in opposition to longer competitors and determining get pictures in our system. He was capable of alter to a brand new place; he already knew the performs from all 5 positions, anyway.”
Smith mentioned he didn’t have any hassle convincing his dad and mom that the transfer from Sewanee could be greatest for him.
“Clearly, your dad and mom assume you’re the most effective participant,” he mentioned. “My dad wished me to attempt to play on the highest stage, as a result of he thought I might. He was extraordinarily excited after I instructed him about it.”
Though he might not get to expertise all that Robinson’s transfer from Williams to Michigan engendered — the NCAA championship sport, the NBA — Smith positively desires to no less than get the chance to play within the NCAAs. Though he wouldn’t have competed in 2020, he was along with his teammates at Applebee’s final March, when they all learned via television that the event had been canceled.
In the event that they’re in a sport on CBS or TNT in March, you realize the comparability to Robinson shall be talked about.
“I’ve received some huge footwear to fill if I’m ever going to get on that stage, for certain,” Smith mentioned.
And it could develop into obvious that there are greater than only one or two guys in Division III able to excelling at increased ranges of the sport.
“I performed some guys at D-3 — it’s only a regular factor in everybody’s thoughts. You hear D-3 and assume it’s a slight step above highschool basketball,” Smith mentioned. “There have been some nights I’d go on the market and simply get clamped up by somebody on a D-3 program and I’d rating 5 factors or one thing. There are actually, actually good gamers at each single stage.
“I wouldn’t be shocked for those who noticed extra folks come up, and also you’ll see this sort of success a bit of greater than you’ve. It received’t simply be Duncan Robinson.”