Three ACL tears have ended Ray Smith’s basketball career, but he’s still a member of the Arizona Wildcats, even if his playing days with them were over before they started.
Smith has the final “This is Arizona” utterance in Arizona’s pre-game introduction video this season, an honor that head coach Sean Miller felt giving to Smith was the right thing to do.
“We wanted to do it because it’s a reminder to our team, it’s our reminder to our fans and everybody that Ray is a real big part of our program, still, and he’s somebody that was going to be a big cog in our wheel this season and we lost him,” Miller said.
“I think for him to have that, that’s one of the ways that we’re able to keep him engaged with what we do. Not on his benefit, but engaged meaning that everyone continues to have awareness of him and what he went through and that he’s a part of our basketball program. It’s the right thing on every level.”
Smith, a former five-star recruit, was expected to be one of Arizona’s best players this season, but he suffered a career-ending knee injury in an exhibition game against the College of Idaho before the season began.
In addition to his appearance in the intro video, Smith can be spotted chatting with teammates during pregame warmups and cheering on the bench during games.
However, Smith’s role with the Wildcats doesn’t extend far beyond that, as his attention has turned toward getting his degree.
Smith does not travel with the Wildcats to road games and he only stops by practices every now and then.
“Ray is more of support,” Miller said, when asked if Smith has a role with the team. “Obviously he’s a great teammate. Our team really looks up to him. He’s tremendously close with a lot of players on our team. But it’s become hard even if we wanted to give Ray a bigger role because it makes no sense for him to travel during the week and miss that much class when getting his degree right now is at the top of his list. It’s his singular focus if you think about it.
“So because he doesn’t accompany us on road trips and the same thing with practice — he’s able to show up once in a while, but it’s not like it’s mandatory — we generally see him on home game days and our players see him throughout the course of the day, but he’s doing as well as can be expected.”
Miller says Smith will be halfway through completing his degree after the spring semester.
“It’s not easy to lose your career at such a young age when you had such high expectations, going through multiple surgeries,” Miller said. “If you’re in your 50s or 60s, that’s very difficult. You do that when you’re in your teens, it works on you mentally.
“Would he like to be out there playing? Of course. But I think all things considered he’s handling things extremely well and hopefully our university, basketball program, and athletic department is supporting him like we need to all the way till the end.
“But our goal with him is for him to leave here with his degree.”
Miller did not rule out Smith traveling with the Wildcats when the NCAA Tournament begins, however. The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament take place during UA’s spring break, so there would likely not be a conflict with Smith’s class schedule.
“He might (travel),” Miller said. “We have to take a look at that schedule, especially the postseason. That might be something we can do, but we haven’t crossed that yet.”
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