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Thursday August 26, 2010 2:41 PM

Rocket Ishmael


Q&A with the newest member of the Rockets, free agent point guard Ish Smith

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - With the start of Rockets training camp less than a month away, the Toyota Center practice court is the place to be as players start ramping up the intensity level in an effort to make sure their games are good to go. You see a sharper focus during the various training drills players perform and the competition taking place during the daily scrimmages is certainly heating up as well.

So with the guys getting ready for the 2010-11 season, it's time for us to do our part as well. And what better way to do so than to catch up with the various members of the team to find out what they've been up to this summer? Today Rockets.com sat down with the club's newest signee, rookie point guard Ishmael Smith, a player with blazing speed and a knack for sweet passes on the court, and a perpetual smile on his face off it.

JCF: It’s been quite the summer for you. You went from undrafted free agent, to Houston’s starting point guard during summer league and now you just signed a multi-year deal with the Rockets. What went through your mind when you were putting pen to paper on that contract?

IS: I don’t think you really think about what it means at the time. I think it will probably hit me before my first NBA game, just being in that atmosphere. It’s an exciting thing but it’s just a quick thought – oh man, this is my first NBA contract – and then after that it’s time to get to work and try to be the best player you can be.

JCF: That makes sense. Because the contract isn’t the ultimate goal, it’s just another step along that long road to being a pro, right?

IS: I’m not a cocky kid at all, so I don’t just assume that certain things are going to happen. You take things as steps, and any step you take you thank God for the many blessings he’s given you, you count them and then you move on. To expect to be here, I don’t know. I guess everybody has dreams to play in the NBA and I’m just living out my dream.

JCF: You had a chance to play with a lot of these guys in Las Vegas during summer league. What kind of feedback have you received from the players and coaches in terms of what you need to keep working on, what they want to see from you and what their expectations are for you as the new season approaches?

IS: Obviously they want me to play to my strengths and that’s getting up and down the floor, playing past, finding shooters off ball screens, scoring in the lane and working on my shooting. They really want me to work on getting better as a shooter and they feel like if I do that then I can be a pretty good player.

JCF: Do you feel like that’s the No. 1 skill you have to work on? Because if you can combine a consistent outside shot with your speed it would obviously take your game to a whole new level.

IS: Absolutely. I truly do feel that way. The shooting aspect is probably the thing that hurt me going into the draft. If I’m able to shoot the basketball then maybe I’m a lottery pick or a top-20 pick. But that’s beside the point. I think we all go through different things in life for a reason and I know I’m here for a reason which is why I’m so happy to be here.

JCF: Critics will also point to your size (Smith is 6-0, 175) and how that might limit you on the defensive end. How do you make up for that when you’re going up against bigger players?

IS: I have to use my speed and quickness – that’s one thing I do. I have quick hands and anticipation. I use all of those aspects and when guys try to post me up, I try to get in front of them and make sure the pass has to be thrown over the top where my help is. I just play to my strengths in an effort to be successful on the defensive end.

JCF: I assume you’ve had an opportunity to play against Aaron Brooks during some of these summer scrimmages?

IS: The other day we played against each other, actually. He’s a heck of a player – he has the complete package: he can shoot it, put it on the floor and do it all. So I’m excited to learn from him and Kyle Lowry. Kyle is a beast when he’s driving the basketball and he’s great defensively, too. All of these things I’m going to try to pick up and add to my game.

JCF: You and Aaron are obviously different players but some will link you two together because of your similar size and speed. What does it mean for you to be around a guy like that? Someone who arrived on the scene three years ago as the 5th point guard on the depth chart and through hard work and effort became not only the starter but one of the team’s most important players as well?

IS: It’s a blueprint for me to use through my career. I saw him in college and he was unbelievable but I never knew he was such a good shooter. Somebody told me the other day that he made the most 3-pointers in the NBA last year. He’s got the whole package now and he’s so tough to guard. He just worked hard and persevered and now he’s in a position where he could arguably be one of the top-10 point guards in the league this year.

JCF: This is the real question, though: who’s faster?

IS: (laughs) Aaron, probably.

JCF: Really? You’re willing to admit that?

IS: Yeah, he’s so fast and he has a low center of gravity. He does all those things, weaving in and out of traffic and different things like that. Plus he’s the vet, so I’m going to give it to him.

JCF: Wow, so now that we know you’re honest, tell us a little bit more about Ish Smith off the basketball court. What have you been up to this summer?

IS: I went home to Charlotte, North Carolina. I have a niece and a nephew and when I’m back home I just hang out with them and do some babysitting when my sisters want to go out and have some dinner together. Me and my mom and brother hang out a lot, too. We’re really a tight-knit family. Anytime I can go home and spend time with them it’s always great. Those are the kind of things I love to do with my free time.

But I love to live in the gym. If I can be in here all day, I will. I love picking up things from different players.

JCF: So let me get this straight: in your off time you’re babysitting for your sisters so they can go out? Are you getting to go out at all???

IS: No, no, no. It’s not like that at all. When my sisters go out it’s just casually for dinner so they can spend some time with each other. One lives in Charlotte and one lives in Winston-Salem. It’s not far, it’s about an hour away, so whenever they get a chance to get together, me and my brother and my mom babysit and we have some good times.

JCF: Well do you at least get to play video games with your niece and nephew? Are they old enough?

IS: Nah, one of them is two and the other is one, so they’re not able to yet. But me and my brother are always playing video games.

JCF: What are you playing these days?

IS: NCAA Football just came out, so me, my brother and brother-in-law created ourselves in the game. Obviously we play for Wake Forest and we just won the national championship. We had to boost our ratings, of course – we gave ourselves 99s (laughs).

JCF: Of course you did. What position does virtual Ish play on the football field?

IS: I was a wide receiver and so was my brother while my brother-in-law was a running back. We had a great time.

JCF: Well just from watching you play in these scrimmages, you’re clearly having a great time out here, too. With the start of training camp just a month away, what are your expectations for the 2010-11 season?

IS: Well from a team aspect, I think we’re going to be dangerous. I don’t think a lot of people know just how good we’re going to be. I really think we have a chance to compete for the Western Conference championship, collectively as a team. We have the coaches, the players – we have every aspect that you can ask for. And with Yao coming back, he’s going to be big for us. I really think we’re a sleeper to win the Western Conference and I truly believe we can do it.

Personally, I’m just going to work hard and do what I’ve always done: do what the coaches tell me to do, play to my strengths and when I get wide-open shots, knock them down because I’ve been working on them. I have confidence that I can be on that opening right roster and I think I will. If I have to go 100 miles per hour in practice to get Kyle ready for Chris Paul, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll always do my best to get those guys ready and whenever I get an opportunity, I’m going to do whatever I can to make the best of it.

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