Ray Smith was one of the most promising prospects in the 2015 recruiting class. A 6-foot-8 forward with tantalizing skill and athleticism, most outlets pegged him as a five-star recruit.
Smith committed and signed with the Arizona Wildcats, but three ACL tears in three years forced him to retire from basketball before he had a chance to make his UA debut.
Still, Smith persevered and graduated from Arizona in 2019, with the hopes of working as a youth probation and parole office in his hometown of Las Vegas. Right now he works with the youth at his father’s church, making a positive impact in his community.
Below are some of the highlights from the conversation with hosts Noah Winfree and Nevin Whitehead:
Smith on the mental toll of recovering from three ACL tears: “That’s a really good question because most people don’t think about the mental aspect of being injured, not being able to do something you love or not even being able to do the little things like getting up to go to the bathroom by yourself without crutches or being able to walk downstairs. It really takes a toll on your mind. And I personally know about two or three people who suffered injuries and had to quit their respective sports and they were just never the same. They used to be loving, outgoing and now they are very temperamental. Some of them have been diagnosed bipolar. So no one really understands that this is actually something that ruins peoples’ lives sometimes. But for me it took a long time, about two or three years, for me to just understand that maybe I have a different goal.”
On those different goals: “My dad always told me that I wasn’t only basketball. I have other skills than basketball. I’m a personable person. I could sit in so many different crowds, be able to talk to so many people and I had a huge impact on the youth at our church. So it hurt a lot of days and I’d be lying to you if I say that I didn’t have terrible days, but evidently once I was able to get back to class and create a cycle of just living, having fun, meeting people, I was able to kind of get my swagger back and get back in my groove a little bit.”
On helping out at his dad’s church: “Man to tell you the truth, honestly a lot of people do things for others to get perks. They do things for others to let people know, ‘hey, this is what I’m doing for others.’ For the last six, seven years, my dad’s church has been giving away toys at Christmas. We fed the homeless for Thanksgiving. We had a Nike shoe drive where we’d give about 1,500 shoes to children in these neighborhoods that they couldn’t afford new shoes. I don’t know about you, but when I went to school and I had a fresh pair of kicks on, I was feeling good. You could walk with your shoulders up and chest up, and you could be yourself. So just understanding little things like that, it really makes a difference. And this is where it’s a little bit different for me because I don’t try not to talk about it, but part of me doing the things that I’ve been a part of keeps me whole. It keeps me sane.
“I was once a kid who didn’t have much and struggled in school and could have potentially gone down the wrong path in life until my father was honorably discharged from the Army after serving 10 years and he came around and he taught me what a man is, how to talk to people, how when you shake a man’s hand, you look them in the eye. You know, the little things. It’s always about the little details, and he made me the man I am today. And one thing I’ll never forget is that I was also a struggling kid that was trying to figure it out. So when I look at these kids in their eyes and they still muster up their smiles and they still muster up happiness that they have, not knowing the situation they are actually in, it just makes you want help, man. It completes me as a person.”
Smith on his recruiting process: “My process was a little bit different than most. I was a late bloomer, is what they were called. Some of the kids get their offers at 14, 15 years old, even before they even get to high school just off the fact of certain guys know other guys and they’re able to work out together. But for me, I kind of made my own story as far as being recruited nationally. And so when I got recruited, there was a lot at one point, and I would never talk to anyone about it, just me and my dad would always speak about it.
“And at the end, the consensus was go to the place where you could work on your craft, there’s not too much distraction, somewhere where the gym is going to be the main focus. And I also didn’t want to be too far from my dad. So I ended up committing to U of A which was at the time, before I got here, Sean Miller and the Wildcats were No. 1 16 weeks straight. They went almost undefeated in the season. It took about them 16 weeks for them to lose at Cal. It was an easy one to pick. It was a tough because there’s other schools I wanted to go to, but I felt like Arizona was the spot for me.”
Smith on high school players signing in the G League instead of going to college: “Since I was 16 years old, I was working out with pros. We had this little run, this little scrimmage. I did pretty well. I put up my points, made some plays, got on the ground for loose balls, got on the boards, running the floor. I made the right play whenever the play was involved with me. And I remember a guy about 7-foot tall, and I want to say he was Australian, he comes up to me and goes, ‘um, is your dad here?’ So me, that guy, and my dad, we go sit down and talk, and he goes, ‘I want to offer you one year, $1 million to come play in Australia right now.’ My dad looked at me and I looked at him, and as much as I wanted to tell him I want $1 million, I had to turn it down.
“One thing that I’ve always been taught is generational progress for my family. My grandmother was not allowed to go school. She didn’t even finish her high school education. My dad, he finished his high school and got his associate’s (degree) and that was the furthest he went. So my degree was such a big deal for him.”
Smith on Josh Green: “Man, I like them. I like Josh Green. He’s explosive, very explosive. That’s the first thing you see when you see Josh Green. I mean, of course he has things to work on. Every basketball player has things to work on. Maybe creating for others, not only himself. I didn’t really see him run pick-and-rolls much, which was my question. Can he run the pick-and-roll? Is he knowledgable enough? Does he study enough to be able to find his spots but also find spots to get it to his big or find spots to get to his wing or go all the way baseline and swing baseline, those different things. But I really like him. I mean, that kid worked hard, man. He sat down on the defensive side of the ball, he did everything he was supposed to do to get to where he’s going.”
Smith on Nico Mannion: “Nico, very smart kid. That’s the first thing you see immediately. His ability to knock down the jumper. For me, I think he’s gonna have to work on just getting bigger. He gotta get a little stronger, a little more physical. Because at his height his size, his position you’re looking at Russell Westbrook.”