Tyler Smith: A complete player
Maybe it was his size or perhaps his basketball IQ or maybe just his passion for the game. But for whatever reason, when Tyler Smith stepped on the basketball court his freshman year, Nevada Union boys coach Jeff Dellis remembers sensing that he was looking at a special player.
Now, four years later, that feeling is validated as Smith has a chance to leave the Miners as a three-time Metro League Most Valuable Player and one of the first Miners in years to snag a Division I basketball scholarship right out of high school.
But despite all the attention Smith enjoyed at an early age, he never surrendered that thirst to become a better player or continue to polish his game. It is his “never be satisfied” attitude that has made him one the toughest players to guard not only in the league, but the Sac-Joaquin Section as well.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and playing the guard position, Smith creates an absolute matchup struggle for opposing coaches. Put an undersized player on him and Smith will shoot over his head or simply post him up. Assign the defensive duties to a bigger player and he’ll blow by him to the basket.
So what’s left?
Dellis warns against a double-team, which only causes more concern because of Smith’s court vision and ability to find an open teammate.
“With Tyler, you basically have to pick your poison,” Dellis said.
After building a reputation for being dangerous in terms of driving to the basket in his first three years of high school, Smith noticed defenders were beginning to sag off him a bit in order to keep him from the hoop.
So Smith spent the majority of this past offseason sharpening his mid-range jump shot and outside shot so that if a defender gave him space, he’d have to watch Smith pull up off the dribble or catch and shoot from behind the arc.
In averaging a career-high 19.0 points this season, Smith is scoring from everywhere on the court.
“He’s much more consistent with his 3’s now,” Dellis said. “He was never bad in the past, but now it’s a surprise to us all when he misses. You can’t close out on him as hard, he’s proficient at squaring up, taking a dribble and firing.”
Taking hundreds of shots each day this past summer and fall was not unusual behavior for Smith.
From the first time he played organized basketball as a first-grader, his dad Gene Smith, the freshman boys basketball coach at Nevada Union, said working on his fundamentals and game have always been trademark Tyler.
Gene began coaching in the Nevada Union program in 1985 and has continued to do so for more than 20 years now, taking just two 1-year breaks during those periods. Basketball has always been a way of life for the Smith family. Not because Tyler and his older brother, Chad, were pressured to play, but because they couldn’t get enough of the sport.
As Tyler was growing up, Gene remembers watching him dribble throughout the house time and time again, often taking over the long hallway to practice his ballhandling. It wasn’t just the dribbling, however, as Gene thinks back to a time when Tyler had put up nerf basketball hoops in every room of the house, so no matter where he was he could continue shooting.
Even the shower had a hoop.
“I think it’s how someone becomes good at anything,” Gene said. “You practice when nobody’s watching – in the heat of the summer or even when its drizzling out.”
After starting at quarterback for the Nevada Union football team as a junior, Smith surprised many by sitting out football this past fall. He noticed that coming out late for the basketball team, after a lengthy football season, really set him behind in terms of conditioning and the accuracy of his shot.
While Smith calls the decision one of the toughest he has had to make, he knew didn’t want to look back and wonder if not making the time commitment to basketball might have been the difference between getting a college scholarship or not.
Smith hopes his effort will pay off next season, as he’s still in the middle of the recruiting process, drawing a large amount of interest from Division II and NAIA schools. He does, however, hope to play his way onto a Division I roster.
One of the perks of having an older brother, and a cousin, five years older, Kellen Ali-Christie, was Tyler spent hours playing with older kids – often playing on organized teams with them as well. As one of the youngest, however, he held his own and developed a confidence in himself that is still evident today.
“My cousin (Kellen) was my neighbor, and I remember Chad and him and I going out to wait for the bus 20 minutes early so we could get some games in,” Tyler said.
So it was no shock to Smith to play with older players when he was moved up to the varsity basketball team as a freshman before the football players returned. Looking back at his high school career now, Tyler still considers one of his favorite memories to be a game his freshman year against Bear River.
He still smiles as he recalls Chad running past him, yelling for Tyler to look up and pass him the ball.
After Jon Sheets, who now plays Division I basketball for the University of Maine, joined the basketball team after football season, Dellis and his staff decided to it would benefit Smith’s development to move him down to the junior varsity for more extensive playing time.
Smith’s sophomore year, however, he became the varsity team’s starting point guard. And by the end of the year he was able to do something Dellis admits he’s never heard happen before – be named Most Valuable Player of the Metro League as just a sophomore.
“I was just trying to make the varsity team as a sophomore,” Smith admitted, looking back. “Then after I made it, I wanted to start. Then once I was starting, I wanted to make the all-league team. I can still remember the practice when Dellis gathered us in a circle and said I was named MVP – I was shocked.”
As a sophomore, Smith’s biggest responsibility was to handle the ball. However, his scoring average was in double digits and Dellis said even though he didn’t like to stand out, like most sophomores, moments came where he took over games.
During his junior year, Smith’s responsibility shifted more toward shouldering the scoring load and providing stability to veteran leadership to a relatively inexperienced team. After averaging 16.7 points per game, he was named co-MVP along with his good friend, Zach Graves of Kennedy.
“This year, his game has evolved into being an all-around player,” Dellis said. “He’s scrappier and makes the players around him better. This year’s team is so much more balanced and that’s a tribute to him.
“It would have been really easy for him to say, ‘This is my team,’ but it’s a sign of his maturation process that he hasn’t and he trusts the other kids.”
Smith is not only the scoring leader this season, but leads the team in rebounding with a 7.8 per game, is averaging a team-high 1.0 blocks and also turns in 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Rarely, if ever, is he seen arguing with an official, talking trash to an opposing player or voicing his frustration with his or his team’s play and with Smith you’d never know if his team was winning by 20 points or losing by 20.
But don’t mistake his demeanor for not caring about the situation at hand – being a vocal, rah-rah guy just isn’t his personality. And Smith admits that, to a certain degree, his calmness can keep the rest of his team from becoming rattled.
“Sometimes Tyler appears to be aloof, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Dellis said. “He’s warm, the way he engages everyone is so respectful and he has a great heart.
“He’s a classy kid and a tribute to his family, the school and to our basketball program.”
To contact sportswriter Stacy Hicklin e-mail her via email@example.com or call 477-4244.
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User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
New season. New co-head coaches. Same expectations.