District native Michael Smith not only came home to play for the Washington Wizards, he came back to start. Coach Gar Heard officially named Smith a starter yesterday for Tuesday's regular season opener against the Atlanta Hawks at MCI Center.
"He is a warrior," Coach Gar Heard said of Smith. "He will do whatever it takes to win. The thing I like about Michael is he doesn't care about scoring. He's going to get a lot of garbage points and make the plays down the stretch to win us ballgames."
Case in point: In the Wizards' preseason finale last Thursday against the Boston Celtics, Smith snatched Mitch Richmond's missed free throw away from two Celtics, then delivered a pinpoint pass to rookie guard Richard Hamilton, who sank a game-winning jumper with 4.4 seconds left.
"The heart that I bring, the heart and energy is my game," said Smith, who attended Dunbar High. "I'm not the type of person who is going to score 40 points here and 40 points there. I'm going to do all the little things--rebound, hustle and play hard."
Smith, who signed with Washington this summer after being released by the Orlando Magic, entered training camp on even terms, at best, with fellow free agent signee Aaron Williams. However, Williams missed most of the preseason with back spasms and a thigh bruise, allowing Smith to move ahead of him. Williams, free agent Gerard King and Lorenzo Williams will back up Smith.
Smith started all six preseason games and averaged 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 points in 21.8 minutes. He has averaged six points and 7.1 rebounds in his five-year career.
He got better in each preseason game, and although Williams is regarded as a superior offensive player, Heard said he needed an enforcer to go with the offensive-minded starting lineup of Richmond, Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and Ike Austin.
At 6 feet 8, Smith is undersized, especially in the Eastern Conference, where he will be matched up against bigger and taller forwards such as Charles Oakley, Dale Davis, Anthony Mason, Antonio Davis, Shawn Kemp and P.J. Brown.
His lack of stature has never been much of a problem, according to Richmond, who played with Smith in Sacramento.
"He is [undersized] but he brings energy and tenacity," Richmond said. "He'll set picks and get rebounds and do what he does best--hustle. . . . He's going to go out and fight. He's hard-nosed. He's going to back his teammates and go out there and lay the wood on somebody. That's the type of player we need."
Wizards Note: Austin (strained left hip flexor) went through his most rigorous practice yesterday since he was medically cleared to play three days ago. He said he felt better but he is unsure if he will be able to play Tuesday.