Raise your hand if, before the start of the 2014-15 season, you thought J.R. Smith would be the Cavaliers starting shooting guard at the All-Star Break.
And yet, J.R. Smith has fit in seamlessly with the Wine and Gold since arriving in a season-altering deal on January 5, coming to Cleveland alongside Iman Shumpert in a three-team deal that sent Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City. Two days later, GM David Griffin dealt for Timofey Mozgov and, after some early bumps, the trio has had the Cavs clicking on all cylinders – winning 14 of 16 heading into the Break.
Smith made his debut with Cleveland against Houston, but made his first start at the beginning of a West Coast trip. In that start at Golden State, Smith went 11-for-23 from the floor for 27 points and five boards. And he and the Cavs have been making beautiful music together ever since – with the New Jersey native averaging 12.7 ppg for a team he’s helped to a 14-6 mark since his arrival.
Drafted with the 18th overall pick of the 2004 Draft, Smith was one of eight first rounders to go straight from high school straight to the NBA – joining prep stars like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Shaun Livingston and Al Jefferson.
Smith, a New Jersey native, was tabbed by the New Orleans Hornets out of St. Benedict’s High School in Newark – where players like Smith, Tyler Ennis, Samardo Samuels and, for a time, Tristan Thompson matriculated on the hardwood.
In today’s installment of Growing Up …, J.R. Smith takes us back to the Garden State, where his journey from a smallish point guard to the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year first began …
I grew up in … Lakewood, New Jersey – it’s a small town in central Jersey, about an hour from Philly and an hour from New York.
I would say it’s … kind of blue collar. It was pretty small. Everybody pretty much knows everybody.
Lakewood is a … sports town. It was great for me. All my friends played; we played every sport. It was awesome.
It’s a great town … especially after you make it. You get to go home and see everybody and it really humbles you, because not too many people come from places like that.
My parents are … both pretty athletic. My dad used to play. He never made it big, but he went to Monmouth College, played a lot of pro-am stuff, things like that.
My dad can … shoot the lights out! He was a better shooter than I am. He was more consistent, too.
He never … let me win. Never.
Actually, he just stopped playing … before I could beat him. Yeah, because he was working so much, it was tough for him. So that’s why I always beat up on my younger brother.
My mom, she didn’t … play at all. She was too small. She was a cheerleader.
I have six … brothers and sister and they’re all pretty athletic.
My oldest brother played … football and both my sisters threw shot put. And all my younger brothers played football, baseball and basketball.
My younger brother … went to Louisville and played on the Final Four team. He’s playing overseas now. And my youngest brother, he’s at Monmouth College playing football right now. My sister, Stephanie, still holds the shot put record at Allentown.
I was hard on my little brothers … because my older brother dropped out of high school I think in his junior year. And my older sister dropped out senior year. So I was almost like the big brother. And I would demand more out of them: ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this the right way. We’re not going to half-ass it. We’re not going to cheat it. We’re going to work at it and we’re going to finish it.’
Fortunately, they listened … and we got it done.
I grew up playing … football, basketball, baseball.
I play … golf, now. I didn’t play growing up, just the last six years or so. I guess I’m alright.
In football, I was a … wide receiver and free safety. I was pretty good, but I stopped playing my junior year. I transferred to St. Benedict’s and they didn’t have a football team.
I was pretty good in … baseball, too. But I stopped playing after ninth grade because I wanted play AAU basketball.
Basketball has always … been my first love.
I had a feeling … I could take hoops to the next level in my ninth grade year.
My eighth grade year, going into … going into ninth grade, I grew six inches over the summer. I was always athletic, but I was more of a guard than a shooter because I was small at the time. And everybody I played against was older. When I grew six inches, I just started dunking and everything else. So my game pretty much grew with my height.
Believe it or not, I was always … a pass-first point guard because my dad wouldn’t just let me shoot it every time like I wanted to.
So I grew up learning … to pass the ball and then, when I grew, they moved me to shooting guard and small forward. So then it was mostly scoring the ball – which I really liked anyway. It suited me more.
The bigger guys … that I played against didn’t have the same coordination and athletic ability, so it was easier for me.
In the 2004 McDonald’s All-American Game … Dwight Howard and I were co-MVPs. And he hasn’t really changed that much, honestly. He’s still goofy, loves to play around, stuff like that. But I don’t think I’ve changed that much either.
There were so many … of us in that crew. It was crazy. Josh Smith, Shawn Livingston, Sebastian Telfair. It’s fun to see guys from 11, 12 years ago -- we played together in AAU and now we’re in the league. We always have stories, whenever we see each other: ‘Yo, you remember this or remember that?’ It’s cool.
It wasn’t always my intention … to go right to the NBA from high school. Actually, it changed at the McDonald’s game. After I had that breakout game, everybody was like: ‘You have a chance to go pro out of high school.’ I really took that and ran with it. I mean, I actually wanted to go to North Carolina from when I was five years old.
My best coach coming up … was probably Dan Hurley at St. Benedict’s. He’s a tough person to play for, but he made you want to be better. I mean, he demanded that you got better and did the right things.
I definitely remember … my first dunk. It was in gym class. We were on a fastbreak. And I just jumped; I didn’t think I was going to dunk. But I got up there, I finished it, and everyone went crazy! I was ecstatic!
But I had a middle school game … later that night, and tried it in the game and I got hung so bad! SO bad! That dunk earlier in the day was one of those one-time deals, you know? In the game, I got the rim – ALL rim.
It was a one-time thing … for a while. But then, over the next two or three years, I started dunking regularly.
That first dunk was … probably one of the best feelings in my life at that time. Because I always wanted to dunk. I’d always see older guys and guys I played against dunking and doing all this crazy stuff. And I thought: ‘I can’t wait to dunk. When I get my chance, I’m gonna dunk EVERY time.
Then I did it, but … couldn’t do it again for a while – so it kinda made me mad. But after that – it was over!