With all of the hoopla surrounding five-star talents Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, and Lauri Markkanen coming to Tucson in the 2016 recruiting class, it is easy to forget another highly-touted talent that will debut for the Arizona Wildcats next year -- Ray Smith.
The forward was a five-star recruit from Las Vegas and an integral part of Arizona's third-ranked recruiting class in 2015. Smith checked in at No. 19 on 247Sports’ National Composite List, slotting him ahead of notable Pac-12 freshmen like Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, Washington’s Dejounte Murray and Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle.
Due to the departure of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, many pegged Smith as the de-facto lockdown defender on the wing to complement the scoring of Allonzo Trier and Gabe York. Unfortunately, Smith tore his ACL for the second time in three years and missed the entire 2015-16 season. With Arizona finishing 25-9 and losing in the first round to Wichita State, one has to wonder how much Smith’s presence would have changed the season. He may not have scored much, but he could have been a sparkplug like Chance Comanche whenever the team needed a boost. Who knows, maybe he would've been much more than that, maybe he would've been the piece that Arizona was missing. But we'll never know.
In 2016-17, Ray Smith will look to show why he was a given a five-star ranking, and he will be given an opportunity to contribute immediately. With Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen set to graduate, Smith could earn time at either forward spot while Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins man the wings.
Arizona has had many athletic defenders play minutes at small forward recently, including Hollis-Jefferson, Aaron Gordon, and Stanley Johnson, but last season’s team desperately needed one at times. Elliott Pitts was penciled in as wing defender at the 3, but he did not show up statistically in the first part of the season and, of course, missed most of the season anyway. While Trier and Tollefsen earned most of the minutes at small forward, neither was particularly strong on defense. Smith might not have played too much this season, but he could have been a change of pace when neither Trier nor Tollefsen’s shot was falling.
During Smith's recovery, his knee limited many things he could work on, but he did take advantage of weight-lifting in his redshirt year. Many recruiting websites listed him around the 180-185 pound range in high school, but he now checks in at 220 pounds, allowing him to hold his own physically.
Smith and Trier’s return, along with the influx of freshman talent in 2016, could see Smith earning playing time at either the three of four depending on the matchup. He could play the lockdown defender role at small forward or shift to power forward in a small-ball oriented lineup. As Smith looks to make his mark in 2016, Arizona may now have the counter to matchup-nightmares like Dillon Brooks, meaning Smith can help the Wildcats win the Pac-12 in 2017.
Whichever position coach Sean Miller plugs him in at, you better not forget about Ray.