The Arizona Wildcats never got to complete their 2019-20 season, one that began with so much promise, hope and hype before ending abruptly when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college basketball (and all other sports) in March.
While we’ll never know what this team could have accomplished in the NCAA Tournament, 32 games worth of competition is more than enough to assess each individual player’s performance.
- Year: Redshirt senior
- Height: 6-foot-5
- Position: Shooting guard/small forward
- 2019-20 statistics: 8.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 APG, 36.4% FG, 36.5% 3-pt FG, 72.9% FT
Though he didn’t begin his career at Arizona, Smith had the longest tenure of anyone on the 2019-20 squad. Including his sit-out year, following his transfer from UNC Asheville, Smith had been part of the program for four seasons, and he saved his best for last.
A starter in ever game, Smith was arguably Arizona’s top defender and normally tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player. Among the notable Pac-12 scorers he helped hold in check were Utah’s Timmy Allen, Washington State’s CJ Elleby (twice) and Cal’s Matt Bradley, while Pac-12 Player of the Year Payton Pritchard might have had 50 instead of a career-high 38 had Smith not been moved onto him eight minutes into the Wildcats’ second OT loss to Oregon.
Unfortunately, though, most fans will only notice Smith’s offensive numbers, which were erratic to say the least. He shot better from 3 than 2, missed some key free throws late in games and his penchant to drive right into a crowd of defenders led to several head-scratching turnovers, resulting in the lowest offensive rating among the 10 scholarship players. He was a pretty darn good passer when not looking to get to the rim, as evidenced by his career-high six assists in the Pac-12 Tournament win over Washington, but didn’t make the most of that skill.
No one will ever be able to question Smith’s effort and toughness. How many other players would suffer a broken nose early in the first half and return to hit six 3s?
Best stretch of play
We’ll always have Anaheim Dylan.
Smith averaged 18.7 points in Arizona’s three wins to take the Wooden Legacy over Thanksgiving weekend, including a UA career-best 20 in the championship game against Penn. He shot 61.9 percent overall and was 8 of 13 from 3, turning it over just twice in 89 minutes.
Worst stretch of play
When Smith’s offensive game was bad, it could be really bad, as evidenced by 12 games shooting below 30 percent from the field. But the coldest run he went on came over a four-game span in late January and early February when he was 4 of 27 overall and 1 of 18 from 3, scoring a combined 15 points. Arizona went 3-1 during that stretch, the only loss coming at home to UCLA when Smith was 0 for 7, but he bounced back the following weekend with double-figure outputs at Cal and Stanford.
Sean Miller on Smith: “He’s just a fighter. He’s been here at a unique time in our program, and he shows up every day. I know that that doesn’t seem like that’s a big compliment. But that could be the biggest compliment a coach can pay a player.
“What I mean is he works at it. He doesn’t miss. He practices if he doesn’t play well. He practices if it doesn’t go well for our team. He shows up in the spring and the summer. And he’s stayed with it academically; I think he’s grown as a student, which is really what this is about in so many ways.”
Smith will probably give a pro career a try, most likely overseas. With a Bachelor’s degree under his belt and a Master’s in the works, though, he has a strong fallback plan if basketball doesn’t pan out.