Roscoe Smith committed to Connecticut with the goal of eventually competing for championships. He just didn't envision that happening in Year 1 of his college career.
"No freshman ever expects to win a national championship your first year," Smith said. "It's a miracle. It was completely crazy that we actually did it."
For Smith, freshman year with the Huskies was an ideal introduction to high-major college basketball. While Smith was a star at Walbrook for three years and one of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy's top players as a senior, recasting himself as a role player to help UConn win the national championship was a seamless transition for the 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward.
"If [playing a supporting role bothered him], he didn't show it," said UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie. "He came in and played his role. He came in and got minutes on the defensive end. We needed a person of his versatility to stick the 1 through the 4. He just had great ability to play multiple defensive positions and bring energy. That's what he did when he came in."
Many former five-star recruits expect to be double-digit scorers right off the bat in college. But Smith said he was fine doing whatever Jim Calhoun and the rest of the Huskies staff requested in order to win games. The stat sheet reflects Smith's willingness to do whatever he was asked. The former Walbrook star appeared in 41 games for UConn, starting 33. He averaged 6.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 25.4 minutes.Ask Smith about his individual performance, and he'll talk at length about the team's success.
"Each game felt like a championship game – the first exhibition game to the last game against Butler," Smith said. "We just continued to play hard and get better as a team. In the NCAAs, we just kept playing and having fun."
Highlights for Smith included a 17-point, seven-rebound performance against Bucknell in the second round of the NCAA tournament; 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the Huskies' Big East Championship game win over Louisville; 16 points and three blocks at St. John's; 11 points and eight rebounds at Marquette; and 12 points on four 3-pointers, plus three blocks and two steals, against Tennessee. The list goes on and on.
"If he wasn't having a good scoring night, he did rebounding," Ollie said. "He's just a versatile guy like that. Hopefully he continues to see himself like that. I just don't see him as being a jump shooter. Roscoe can do a lot of things on the basketball court. Hopefully he continues to do that. We love Roscoe and the energy and the personality [he brings] to our team and swagger to our team. He's just a remarkable young man. Hopefully he'll continue to play with that intensity through this season."
Smith said the most challenging part of last season was getting used to the pace of the game and handling the seemingly nonstop schedule of games, workouts and practices. After an offseason spent in the gym, Smith thinks he's better equipped to handle the grind as a sophomore. He doesn't appear to have bought into the post-championship hype. Smith said he spends what little free time he has playing video games. Ollie, meanwhile, can tell that Smith worked hard in the offseason.
"[He's improved] just off the bounce, pump fakes, getting into the lane during games a little bit more," Ollie said. "Just his basketball IQ has grown. … I love that he's a versatile wing. I see him as a 3, but definitely we can go small and we can give the other team mismatches putting him at the 4, which we did a lot last year. But I do see him at the 3, too. He has things about his game which are going to make him a lethal 3-man."
It's been almost three years since Smith helped Walbrook to the Class 4A state semifinals and earned his second straight Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection. He doesn't get back to Baltimore much anymore – just two or three visits since the Huskies won their championship. But everything he learned here has stuck with him.
"I'm just not playing for myself," Smith said. "I'm also playing for the University of Connecticut and all the Baltimoreans that came out of Baltimore to UConn – Josh Boone, Rudy Gay. I'm just continuing the great history of all the Baltimore guys that came to UConn and were successful."
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.
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U.S. Presswire photo of Roscoe Smith by Bob Donnan / April 2, 2011