Bucks’ Smith was quick to make name for himself in ACC

Led conference in assists as Wake Forest freshman

The Atlantic Coast Conference has been around for 60 years.

When an athlete – let alone a freshman – achieves a first within the tradition-rich conference, it is a noteworthy achievement.

One of the newest Milwaukee Bucks holds that distinction, and in this particular case, it is not J.J. Redick.

Ish Smith, acquired by the Bucks along with Redick and Gustavo Ayon from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih on Feb. 21, became the first freshman to lead the ACC in assists during the 2006-07 season, averaging 6 per game. In the process, he also became the first ACC assists leader from Wake Forest University since Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues accomplished the feat in 1987.

Prior to the Bucks’ Feb. 23 home game against the Atlanta Hawks, Smith was one of just a handful of players on the BMO Harris Bradley Center court two hours before game time, getting up extra shots while assistant coaches and ball boys shagged rebounds.

“That’s something I’ve always done,” Smith said when asked about his pregame workout. “I’ll just continue the routine and keep it going.”

Ishmael Larry Smith learned about work ethic at a young age, growing up in Charlotte, N.C.

“My mother and father (Gwen and Larry) are my role models,” Ish said. “They’ve always been hard workers. I’ve just tried to keep that up my whole life. It’s a lot of hard work – a different kind of hard work – but you’ve got to keep working harder than you did the day before. You can’t relax.”

Smith’s hard work established him as a Division-I prospect during his years at Central Cabarrus High School. He averaged 24.7 points, 8 assists and 5 steals per game in leading his team to a 20-8 record and a sectional finals appearance. He received all-conference honors and was named the Charlotte Observer’s Piedmont Player of the Year.

True to form, Smith didn’t rest on his laurels. He produced 24.8 points and 9.8 assists a game as a senior, guiding his team to a 25-3 record and MECA-6 Conference regular-season and tournament titles. He finished his prep career with 1,775 points and a school-record 687 assists, repeated as an all-conference choice and the Observer’s Piedmont Player of the Year, and was also named conference player of the year.

Smith was listed among Rivals.com’s top 130 college prospects in the class of 2006 and ranked 82nd in the class by Scout.com.

Smith considers himself fortunate to have been raised in North Carolina, where the citizens’ passion for basketball – particularly college basketball – burns fervently. Most young players dream of playing in the ACC.

“First of all, you’ve got Wake Forest, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Duke,” Smith said. “And that’s not even naming UNC-Wilmington and schools in the corners of the state that are really good and go at it every night they play.

“North Carolina is so loaded with basketball players and fans going here and there. There are a lot of schools and a lot of teams, and everyone’s passionate about their teams. The Big East is a little bit tougher brand of basketball. The ACC is more of a skill and finesse league.”

Smith became an instant impact player at Wake Forest, starting 30 of his 31 games as a freshman. He recorded a double double of 12 points and 11 assists against James Madison in his collegiate debut, and went on to set a school record for assists by a freshman with 186, breaking the mark previously set by Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Smith finished his frosh season as the Demon Deacons’ second-leading scorer at 8.7 points per game and ranked fourth on the team with 3.8 rebounds per contest. He broke another Wake Forest freshman record – and an ACC Tournament record – when he handed out a career-high 15 assists  against Georgia Tech in the opening round of the ACC tourney.

Smith was coached during his first season at Wake Forest by Skip Prosser, who died at the age of 56 of a heart attack in July of 2007. Prosser was succeeded by his top assistant, Dino Gaudio, who coached the Demon Deacons for the balance of Smith’s career. Gaudio has since become a college basketball analyst for ESPN.

“I played for Coach (Skip) Prosser for one year and Coach (Dino) Gaudio for three years,” Smith said.  “Coach Gaudio’s a great guy. It was fun playing there for four years. I played against (new Bucks teammate) John (Henson) and so many good players. A lot of them are in the same position I’m in now.
“You had to have a lot of toughness to play in the ACC. It was good for me and I’m sure it was good for those guys also.”

Smith, a three-year team captain, averaged 13.2 points, 6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.68 steals as a senior, earning second-team all-ACC honors and leading the conference in minutes played with 36.8 per game. He finished second on the Demon Deacons’ career assists list and became the first player in Wake Forest history to total more than 1,000 points (1,114) and 600 assists (612) during his career. He also became the first Deacon with 1,000 points, 500 assists and 400 rebounds in a career.

Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Houston Rockets on Aug. 23, 2010, and assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the National Basketball Development League on Jan. 17, 2011. He was recalled a week later, then reassigned on Feb. 1.

On Feb. 24, 2011, he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies along with Shane Battier in exchange for Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Caroll and a future first-round draft pick. He played in 15 games for the Grizzles during the 2010-11 season.

Smith, waived by Memphis on Dec. 14, 2011, was claimed by the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 16. Twelve days afterward, he started for the Warriors in a win over the New York Knicks in place of the injured Stephen Curry, totaling 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He was waived by the Warriors on Jan. 13, 2012, and signed as a free agent with Orlando on Feb. 2, 2012.

Smith was averaging 2.4 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 10.5 minutes per game through 36 games with the Magic before being dealt to Milwaukee.

“You don’t want to move from the city you’ve been in, but as far as the team aspect, it’s a new opportunity with a team making a playoff push,” he said. “I’m excited about that and happy to be with the team I’m with.”

When asked what Bucks fans can expect from Redick and Ayon, Smith responded, “Obviously, J.J.’s a shooter – probably one of the best shooters in ACC history. That pedigree that he has, he brings it wherever he goes. ‘Goose’ is a smart, heady player who plays hard and can step out and shoot the 15-footer. He rebounds and plays hard inside.

“Hopefully we can bring something to the table.”