“They said I was too big to play, so my father was like, ‘It’s not like he can catch anybody,’ and I remember thinking, ‘Yep, you’re probably right,’ ” Smith recalls with a laugh. “The coach said I would have to go play Pop Warner with the teenagers but my dad said no and he took me to play basketball.”
Had that conversation gone a bit differently and had the rules been bent to allow Smith to make his mark on the gridiron . . . well, that’s a situation Paul VI basketball Coach Glenn Farello is glad didn’t become a possibility.
Without Smith, the Panthers probably wouldn’t have beaten nationally ranked Oak Hill Academy last month.
Likewise, fellow Paul VI big man Marcus Derrickson doubts he’d have an aggressive post game to match his soft outside touch if not for his 6-foot-7, 285-pound teammate.
And ultimately, there’d be no transformation, a process that’s seen Smith go from a “really big kid” with a bum knee to one of the Panthers’ most consistent and sought-after players. Through 14 games, the junior forward is averaging 9.4 points and a team-high 11.4 rebounds while garnering interest from Virginia, Xavier, George Mason and others.
“Q is our most consistent performer and that’s because he’s consumed with getting better every day,” Farello said. “He’s always the hardest working guy on the floor, he’s got such a great basketball IQ and he’s a big part of our success the last two years.”
At first glance, the 2011-12 stat sheet would say otherwise. After transferring from Archbishop Carroll, Smith averaged 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds as a sophomore. He spent most games on the bench, nursing a sprained left knee sustained before the season and cheering on his team’s run to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title. But for Smith, the experience proved exactly what he needed.
“Last year was one of the best years I’ve ever had playing basketball,” Smith said. “Me coming in as the new guy, I learned so much from the seniors and with me being hurt, it made me focus on what it means to be a better teammate and leader.”
The first step in that process concerned his conditioning. Smith entered the Paul VI program well over 300 pounds, leading strength coach Brandon Broadnax to take him under his wing.
“He hadn’t really done anything from a weightlifting standpoint, so he was big but he wasn’t strong,” Broadnax said. “The other big issue was his diet and conditioning because he hadn’t run a whole lot or been asked to move a lot before.”
Many a day, Smith tirelessly worked on his footwork, engaging in ladder exercises while under the pressure of a timed clock and medicine ball being thrown his way. As his agility improved, so did his speed and endurance, elevating his ability to defend outside the paint and expand his offensive repertoire in the post.
Perhaps no one noticed Smith’s evolution more than Derrickson. Practice was hard enough last season, when Derrickson was tasked with boxing out and defending Smith’s massive frame. But as Smith added a left-handed hook and precise footwork and lost 30 pounds, Derrickson now finds games to be somewhat of a relief from their practice battles.
“He’s relentless out there,” Derrickson said. “I know I have to try to match his intensity or else he’s going to kick my butt.”
Smith also ensures that his teammates are prepared through constant communication. As the Panthers’ last line of defense, Farello charges the vocal Smith with orchestrating defensive adjustments on the floor.
“He’s got almost a point-guard awareness where he’s able to identify things and always knows what’s going on around him,” Farello said. “Out of huddles, you might see him telling a teammate what to pay attention to or what scheme might work. Q’s one of the better leaders I’ve coached in that he’s such a positive influence on his teammates.”
Those qualities were on display during Paul VI’s 56-54, double-overtime win against Oak Hill at the National High School Hoops Festival on Dec. 8. Smith scored 13 points, pulled down 19 rebounds and nailed two critical free throws in a performance that wowed many college coaches in attendance. Now, with recruiters showing increased interest and the Panthers following his inspired play, it appears the kid who once was too big for the competition has plenty of potential to grow.