Most of his senior year at Georgetown, Eric Smith said he wasn't particularly interested in playing professional basketball. Smith knew he did a lot of things well, but nothing exceptional enough to make it in the National Basketball Association. Or so he thought.
Apparently Smith had underestimated his skills. But the scouts, coaches and general managers in the NBA have not. Smith, the 6-foot-5 swing man from Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., probably will be selected in the second round of the NBA's June 29 amateur draft, according to league sources.
Smith was one of 52 college seniors here for four days last week to participate in the NBA's first pre-draft instructional camp, which ended Sunday at the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle. It was the first time most of the NBA head coaches had a chance to see in person some of the best college seniors.
Other players who attended the camp included Louisville's Jerry Eaves and Derek Smith, DePaul's Skip Dillard, Cal-Irvine's Kevin Magee, Tulsa's Paul Pressey, Connecticut's Corny Thompson, Wake Forest's Guy Morgan, Bradley's David Thirdkill, Brigham Young's Fred Roberts, Houston's Linden Rose, George Mason's Andre Gaddy and James Madison's Linton Townes.
The players were divided into six teams. They scrimmaged, played three NBA-style games and were made familiar with various aspects of the pro game. The scouts say they were pleased with the results of the camp overall, and also pleased with the performance of Eric Smith.
"Smith played very well," Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said today. "He knows how to play, he's smart, and he's versatile. He doesn't lack any of the pro skills."
"He can be a scorer and good defensive player in the NBA," said Marty Blake, the league's director of scouting. "He's very well-rounded and intelligent. During the camp, he picked up things very quickly."
Such praise still comes as a surprise to Smith, who played in the shadow of all-America guard Eric Floyd and 7-foot Patrick Ewing last season.
"A few months ago, when we talked about professional basketball, I wasn't sure if I wanted to try to play," Smith said. "I thought I was lacking in certain skills to play at the NBA level. I was a small forward in college who didn't shoot that much. Knowing I'd have to be a guard as a pro, I didn't know if I could make that transition.
"There are things I have to work on, like quickness," Smith continued. "When I look at the NBA playoffs, at guys like Norm Nixon and Maurice Cheeks and how quick they are, I just shake my head."
"But I do want to play pro basketball now," said Smith, who also has been approached by the Dallas Cowboys about playing pro football (he played quarterback and safety in high school, and was an all-Met punter). "For the first time, I'm thinking a lot about pro basketball. I think playing with Patrick has made me a much better defensive player, and playing guard much of the year has helped me develop some other skills that are necessary."
Smith averaged 10 points per game as a senior, but made significant contributions that did not show in the statistics, particularly on defense. He almost always guarded the opposition's best offensive player--whether he was a guard, small forward or power forward.
When Gene Smith was injured early in the season, Coach John Thompson moved Eric Smith to point guard, but it was common for him to play four positions in a game. He scored, rebounded, passed and handled the ball, and seemingly didn't have a bad game all year.
"There's no doubt that he developed a degree of versatility during his senior year that I had not seen previously," said Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo. "And that obviously will help his draft stock."
Even though Smith was slightly disappointed with his performance in two of the three games in the weekend camp, the scouts were impressed.
"He makes the right decisions," Ferry said. "How well he does (in the NBA) will depend on who he is drafted by and how much they need him."
"You get some kids that were stars in college," Blake said, "and they come in not wanting to rebound or do anything but shoot the ball. But Eric knows his role. He doesn't try to be Dr. J. He's been well-coached, which means you don't have to go over things twice with him. He picks things up right away. And he's quick enough. He should go in the second round."
"It was good to be here, in such a competitive atmosphere," Smith said. "Sometimes there was more intensity than in the NCAA tournament."
But then again, as Smith noted, the stakes--a chance to make thousands of dollars--were considerably higher.