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Roscoe Smith hopes hard work is his ticket to a chance in the NBA

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Those close to Roscoe Smith share a favorite phrase.

When speaking of Smith, a Baltimore native and 6-foot-8 Nevada-Las Vegas forward entered in Thursday's NBA draft, they repeat a pair of words, over and over.

It's not necessarily a nickname, but his trainer, high school and college coaches all refer to Smith in one way or another as the epitome of a "hard worker."

Those two words find their way into sentences after his name because those around him say Smith is always the first player in the gym and the last to leave. He can't wait until practice ends so he can shoot extra shots by himself. And when he's not on the court, his sanctuary is the weight room.

"He worked in the weight room, worked on the practice court, worked in games," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "He was just an absolute worker. He never took a day off, never took a play off.

"That's just Roscoe."

But what Smith has learned this offseason — since deciding to forgo his senior year and declare for the draft — is that sometimes hard work doesn't immediately resonate with the people he needs to impress most.

Improving his stock

Despite averaging 11.1 points per game and ranking fifth in the nation in rebounds with 10.9 per game this year, Smith was not among the 60 players selected to participate in last month's NBA draft scouting combine in Chicago.

Smith was disappointed he wasn't invited to the combine, but he continued his work in the gym and weight room. He traveled to Los Angeles, where he began improving his game and strength with hopes to secure pre-draft workouts with NBA teams. Then he spent time back home working out with family friend Dwayne Wise, who's developed a respected reputation for his ability to mentor and train some of Baltimore's top basketball players.

"That was the best thing that could've happened to Roscoe because it made him work that much harder," Wise said of the combine snub. "Not getting invited to the draft combine, I think it really, really motivated him. He looked at it as more of a positive thing. He's always been the kind of player that thrives when his back is against the wall."

Leading up to the draft, Smith has heard questions regarding his ability to play on the perimeter, where he'll likely see the most time if he makes it to the NBA.

Rice said Smith is the type of player who does anything for his team to win. At UNLV Smith was needed inside, so most of his point production came within 12 feet of the basket. This season, Smith made only two 3-pointers on 10 attempts.

But that doesn't mean the long-armed forward lacks range.

"He can really shoot the heck out the basketball," said Kevin Bridgers, Smith's coach for three years at Walbrook High.

Smith just needed the reps and to improve his core to be NBA-ready, Wise said. Given Wise's background in the Navy, core work is his specialty. So the trainer drew up a detailed workout regimen and paired Smith with another one of his other mentees, St. Frances grad and 6-7 UNLV commit Dwayne Morgan.

"A couple days a week, it would start at 5 o'clock in the morning," Wise said. "We'd get them up, get three miles running in. After they'd get their miles in we'd do swimming, which was the second portion of the day. Then from the swimming, we'd do all skill work later on in the evenings … get a series of 500 shots up."

Eventually, the invitations to work out for teams rolled in, culiminating with him working out for his 16th team, the Washington Wizards, on Tuesday.

Wise said he believes Smith's rejuvenated perimeter skills can mesh with his 7-foot-11/2-inch wingspan and natural athleticism to make him a versatile player in the NBA.

"Something people don't know is Roscoe grew," Wise said. "He was 6-foot-7 coming out of high school and now he's pushing 6-foot-9 ... which I think has improved his stock as a power forward with some small forward skills."

A series of moves

Bridgers remembers when Smith arrived at Walbrook as a freshman, standing at 6-6. The coach didn't think twice about adding him to the varsity roster, and Smith soon became a do-it-all player.

Smith played three years at Walbrook before deciding to attend national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia as a senior when Walbrook closed after his junior year. At Oak Hill, he averaged 18.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, earning a spot in the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic All-American game as ESPN's seventh-ranked small forward in the nation.

After gaining interest from Duke, Florida, Georgetown and Kansas, Smith chose Connecticut, where he played his first two collegiate seasons. As a freshman, he averaged 6.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 33 games as a starter on UConn's 2011 national championship team.

"It was an amazing experience," Smith said. "A lot of people don't ever get a chance to win a national championship, so that definitely helped me grown and helped my game, the pieces I needed to improve. It definitely helped me mature."

Though he contributed as a freshman, Smith made just 14 starts and saw his minutes decrease his sophomore year. With UConn set to face a postseason ban during his junior season due to violations of NCAA Academic Progress Rate guidelines, Smith elected to transfer to UNLV. He had to take a redshirt year but looked forward to the time off.

"I just wanted to transfer to get a year to sit out and work on my game, strengthen my body up to help myself toward being in the best situation as possible," he said.

Smith spent hours a day watching film, lifting weights and working on his shooting and ball handling.

Rice said practice became Smith's favorite part of the day, which proved useful when he finally could play this past season.

In 31 games as a redshirt junior, Smith tied for 10th in the country in double-doubles.

"There was never a day, either his redshirt year or the year he played for us that he didn't give just his total effort every possession, every day," Rice said.

While Smith has been left out of most of the mock drafts and left off of top-100 prospect lists, he's confident in his skills. He looks up to one particular player in the NBA, San Antonio Spurs forward and 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

"My dream has always been just to play in the NBA," Smith said. "I compare myself to a Kawhi Leonard, a versatile guy who plays defense and can knock down shots."

Those around Smith don't hesitate to say they see a bright future for him, simply because of his work ethic.

"Whatever team drafts him, they're getting a great player with high character," Wise said. "They'll get a kid that's willing to work for everything."

Said Smith: "I'm just hoping that I have the opportunity to get my name called. It's just about keeping up the hard work, keeping up the faith."

adodson@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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