By John DentonOct. 20, 2015
ORLANDO – There are still times, even eight years into this unlikely NBA career, that Jason Smith will look around some exotic locale or across from a NBA superstar player and he’ll marvel at how far he’s come from Kersey, Colo.
Yep, that Kersey, Colo., the one that few people have ever heard of and even fewer people know how to pronounce properly. ``It’s Ker-zee. Everybody makes that mistake – even my old college coach, Billy Peterson, who’s right over there,’’ Smith said pointing to the Magic’s D-League coach.
How unlikely is it that a NBA player such as Smith came from Kersey, Colo.? Well, in 100 years of time, Kersey has added 1,150 people, swelling the population to a whopping 1,454 in the latest census count. Smith – who has been the Grand Marshall of the Kersey Day Parade numerous times – is such a big deal in his small town that his likeness was sewn onto a ceremonial quilt that was made when the town was celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
And then there’s this from Smith, who revels in the simplicity of his hometown and beams when talking about his small-town Colorado roots.
``We just got a stop light about four years ago,’’ Smith said with glee. ``No Wal-Mart, but we just got a Dollar Store. The best restaurant is Kersey Pizza. No five-star places, no steak houses or even a Subway or anything like that.
``But (Kersey) is such a great place and I don’t ever regret coming from a small town,’’ Smith added. ``In fact, I’ve embraced it.’’
Smith revels in being a small-town kid who defied the odds making it to the NBA, and he’s embraced being in his adopted hometown of Orlando. The Magic signed Smith, 29, as a free agent last July and they had a pretty good idea of what he could do considering that he had two of the best games of his career against Orlando last season.
Smith is 7-foot, but he is more shooter than banger. It is no coincidence that one of his best friends in the NBA is fellow sweet-shooting power forward Ryan Anderson – the former Magic standout who Smith played with for two seasons in New Orleans. The two of them will be pitted against one another on Wednesday night when the Magic (4-2) host the Pelicans (2-3) at the Amway Center.
``Ryan is a great guy and (Magic fans) down here in Orlando know that,’’ Smith said. ``He’s just always willing to do anything to help the team win. He’s an amazing shooter with great range. And he’s an underrated big man because he goes in there and rebounds. He’s supposed to be undersized, but you wonder, `How did he get that?’’’
The same could be said of Smith, who has carved out quite a NBA career by being a big man capable of stretching defenses all the way out to the 3-point line. Statistically, his defense was problem spot last season when he played for the New York Knicks, but Smith has been solid in every aspect of the game thus far and he’s earned the trust of Magic head coach Scott Skiles.
``He’s been great and good every day in practice. And he has some leadership ability,’’ Skiles raved. ``He does a lot of the detail things – he’s a good screener, he’s a good position rebounder and he’s always in the right spot defensively.’’
Skiles said that the competition for minutes has been so good between starting center Nikola Vucevic, power forwards Channing Frye, Andrew Nicholson and Smith and reserve Dewayne Dedmon that there are scenarios where ``a guy doesn’t play or doesn’t play very much who deserves to play and that will be difficult to manage.’’
Smith has been able to survive in situations like that because he is someone who takes nothing for granted. Hailing from a small town – where he was twice Colorado’s high school player of the year – and out of Colorado State taught him how to fight for everything he’s gotten. He was drafted by the Miami Heat with the No. 20 pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, he was traded soon after, he’s since played for Philadelphia, New Orleans and New York and he even battled through a torn ACL injury that cost him a season and a half of playing basketball. He takes great pride in the fact that he’s been able to adapt wherever he’s been and he’s been able to survive in the NBA.
``I consider myself very lucky with all of the injury problems that I’ve had and I’ve had to overcome a lot of bumps,’’ said Smith, who has averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 413 career NBA games. ``For me, it’s a day at a time and being thankful for everything that I’ve gotten. I just want to go out there and always play hard because you just never know when this whole journey is going to end.’’
That point was rammed home to Smith last week when the Magic were in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as part of the NBA’s Global Games 2015 promotional tour. Smith took in all of the sites of Copacabana Beach, the iconic Cristo Redentor statue and the beautiful Brazilian landscape and he marveled at how much he’s gotten to do and see because of his talents as a basketball player. It’s more than most kids from tiny Kersey, Colo., ever dream of doing.
``Completely, absolutely blown away by that,’’ Smith said of basketball allowing him to see the world. ``I’m a small-town boy from Kersey, Colo. and I never could have imagined that I would get to come to places like Rio and Brazil. It’s an amazing experience, a lifetime experience for me and something that I would never have gotten to do without basketball. So I consider myself so fortunate.’’
Smith was also fortunate recently to be back in Orlando for the birthday of his 1-year-old daughter, Ella Rose, when the basketball gods cut him a break. Originally, the Magic were scheduled to play in Indiana on his daughter’s birthday two weeks ago, but the game was moved because of a conflict with the NBA Finals. That change had the Magic back in Orlando and Smith got to be around for his daughter’s first birthday party.
And last week, prior to the team departing for the trip to Brazil, Smith’s daughter got to attend her first Magic game at the Amway Center. In Orlando since July, Smith has been highly complimentary of his adopted hometown and he said Orlando will always be near and dear to him because it is the place where his daughter first learned what daddy does for a living.
``(Ella Rose) isn’t mad that you lost or had a crappy game; she’s just happy and smiley that dad is home,’’ said Smith, who met his future wife in Philadelphia when he was playing for the 76ers. ``Channing Frye let (Smith’s wife and daughter) sit in his seats and they were a couple of rows behind the bench. (Ella Rose) was all into the scoreboard, taking in all of the sites and sounds and she was just happy-go-lucky. Then, she sees dad on the bench and locks eyes with me and it was like, `Hey, I know that guy!’ She went ballistic because I couldn’t go and give her a hug. It was an amazing moment for me and it will be even greater when she realizes (playing basketball) is what her dad does.’’
It’s the little things – making it to the NBA from tiny Kersey, Colo., getting to see the world thanks to basketball, surviving a serious knee injury and locking eyes with your 1-year-old daughter – that ensures Smith will never take anything for granted.