[Yao Ming & Shane Battier - K. Weidie]
Sometime during the second half of the Wizards’ 98-91 victory over the Houston Rockets last night, Ishmael Smith drove hard to the basket and scored on a layup. Shortly thereafter, one of the Wizards fans I follow on Twitter, tweeted the following:
The reality is that before starting point guard Aaron Brooks went down with a sprained ankle earlier in the week, not many Wizards fan had any reason to know about rookie Ishmael Smith. In fact, before I started doing research for last night’s game, I had no idea who he was either. But I should have.
Back in March of this year, Smith and his Wake Forest Demon Deacons, took on John Wall and the Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky ran roughshod over Wake Forest, 90-60. Wall had 14 points and seven assists, while Smith struggled with just two points and four assists.
Smith played much better in last night’s matchup against Wall (12 points, three assists and five rebounds), but once again he came up short as Wall notched his first NBA triple-double (19 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds). Before the game, I asked Smith about playing against Wall in the NCAA tournament, Trevor Booker in the ACC, and his adjustment to the NBA.
Rashad Mobley: Now I have to admit that I had to do some research on you prior to this game, and when I did, I saw that you and John Wall went to head-to-head earlier this year in the NCAA tournament. What do you remember most about the game, and about Wall in general?
Ishmael Smith: “Well, first of all, that game was a blowout, so I really don’t want to remember too much about that game (laughs). But as you know, Wall was the number one pick for a reason. He’s a heck of a player, he has tremendous speed, tremendous court vision, and what I remember most was that at 6’4″ he was able to finish at the rim and do things that small guards could only dream of, and he’s doing those things at this level too. And he’s a true point guard. But considering I’m about to go up against him, I’m not going to praise him too much. Besides, Patrick Patterson (Wall’s former Kentucky teammate and current Rockets forward) teases me about Wall and that game all the time.”
RM: Before that game against Kentucky, Wall was asked about you and your game, and he had nothing but praise. He said you were quick, tough to keep out of the lane, and you were tough on defense. So based on that game, and any tape of him you’ve seen since then, how do you think you can make it tough for Wall on both ends?
IS: “He’s such a talented player, so it’s going to be tough to exploit any weaknesses that he has. But it’s going to be a team effort, not necessarily anything I can do individually.”
RM: Wall has been struggling with his shot and turnovers so far this season, what are some of the adjustments you’ve had to face so far?
IS: “The absolute biggest adjustment from college to the NBA is finishing over some of these taller players. You may play against a few bigger players in college, but they aren’t as athletic as they are in the NBA. These guys can jump, they can run, they are strong and agile, and it’s a huge adjustment. Luckily for me, I can go up against the tallest guy in the NBA in Yao, so I get practice, but it’s tough. But the thing I admire about Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and guards like that, is that they get in the lane and are just fearless. I’m sure I’ll get to the point eventually, but the adjustment is tough.”
RM: You also went up against Trevor Booker several times in the ACC, right?
IS: “Yes sir, that’s my guy. Trevor is an athlete and an absolute beast man. He had several highlights on us at Wake Forest, although we always seemed to get the best of Clemson in the win column. But he’s a heck of a player, very deserving of being picked in the first round, and he’s a highlight waiting to happen. I see he’s not playing a lot, but his opportunity will definitely come. I mean, look at me … I went from no one knowing who I was, to being a starting point guard, and you’re asking me questions. You hate to get the opportunity just because of injury like I did, but you have to take advantage.”
Other notes from the Rockets locker room:
- I asked Rockets forward Luis Scola about the sudden retirement of his former Argentine national squad teammate (and former Washington Wizard) Fabricio Oberto:
Scola: “I was really in shock because I wasn’t expecting that at all. During the offseason when he wasn’t able to find the perfect team and the perfect fit for him in order to continue his career, I thought maybe he’d retire then. But then Portland came along, and I know he thought that was a perfect for him. Portland is a great organization, they had injuries on the front line, so they needed big men, and he was playing well. So I thought he finally found a home, and then he had that heart scare and it was all over. But I talked to him once I heard and I asked if he was angry, happy or sad, but he was okay. He said it was just a scare, and he probably could have continued to play, but he decided it wasn’t worth the risk. You know he’s won a gold medal for his country, and he’s won an NBA title, so he’s done everything–he’s a man at peace, and once I heard that, I was fine too.”
- Yesterday, Michael Lee wrote an article about the special relationship between Trevor Booker and Rockets forward Jordan Hill. Prior to the game, I asked Hill if he saw that article and asked him to discuss his relationship with Booker.
Hill: “You know I glanced at that article because someone told me about it, but I didn’t read it all the way through. But we had a great relationship you know, we did everything together and we played all sports, not just basketball, we just had fun. It’s an amazing blessing that you go from playing around in the neighborhood to preparing for an NBA game across the court from one another. If you read that article, I’m sure you know we both went through some things, but we kept our heads high and here we are. I’ve been traded once and it’s taken me a minute to get comfortable, and he’s not playing as of yet, but it’ll come. Some coaches don’t trust rookies, and they want to lean on veterans, so it’s a process.”
- Toward the end of the article, Michael Lee mentioned that Hill and Booker would have dunk contests, and Booker always had the upper hand. I asked Hill about this, and he set the record straight.
Hill: “Damn he just put me out there like that huh? But he’s right, he got the best of me man, he has hops out of this world, and he has that world-class speed too.”
- After the game, I could not help but ask Rockets forward Shane Battier about his impressions of Wall. Battier has guarded some of the league’s toughest players in his nine-year career, so getting his take was a must.
Battier: “Man, I was very impressed, and blown away to be honest with you. He plays with a maturity that is way beyond his years, he had a great balance of trying to impact the game with the ball and trying to get his teammates involved. I think what makes him special is his transition game. His vision is amazing and he knows how to finish, and it usually takes rookies awhile to develop those things. You all are going to be writing about him for a long time, easily. He’s a big guard, and on most nights he’s going to go up against smaller guards, which means opposing teams will have to use more men to help on him, and he’ll use his vision to find the open guy and exploit that. There was a guy sitting court-side (Magic Johnson) who won championships exploiting those types of match-ups, and I don’t know if Wall can duplicate that, but the talent is there. Ish (Ishmael Smith) and Kyle (Lowry) had a tough time out there. But to be honest, even Aaron (Brooks) would have had his hands full. He’s just a talent.”