Bill Hass on the ACC: Wolfpack's Smith Works on Solutions to Constant Double-Teams
Feb. 25, 2010
By Bill Hass
Most basketball teams practice a drill like this, and its purpose is to teach post players to make sure they go up high enough to get a shot off over a taller defender.
Coach Sidney Lowe employs it at NC State, and the results have paid off for Tracy Smith. One of the shortest of the ACC’s post players at 6-8, Smith nevertheless is one of the best at establishing himself and scoring down low.
Part of the credit goes to his determination.
“I just try to use my body as much as possible,” said Smith, who said he weighs around 240. “You have some people in the league who are bigger than me, taller than me. But I think I know how to use my body and get around them to where I can score.”
And some of the credit goes to the broom drill.
“If you don’t shoot the ball over the broomstick, you’re going to get blocked,” Smith explained. “You have to jump as high as you can, elevate and get full extension with your arms. It’s very frustrating but at the same time it’s working. It’s a good drill. I still do it.”
On a team plagued by inconsistency, Smith’s play has been rock-solid. He averages17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds and leads the ACC in shooting at 54.3 percent.
Smith has scored in double figures in 25 of the 27 games in which he has played this season, remarkable for someone who faces a double-team nearly every night out. Smith knows what’s coming, and it can be frustrating at times, but he understands that opponents don’t want him to beat them inside.
“They’re going to do whatever they have to do to get you out of the game,” he said. “So you can’t think about it; you’ve got to find a solution for it.”
Smith has worked on a number of solutions that are paying off in his junior season. He can post up and shoot with either his right hand or his left hand, he has added a good jump shot from 12 to 15 feet and he has learned to pass the ball to the open man instead of forcing up a shot.
“I think Tracy Smith is a really tough player to play straight up,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams. “When he gets the ball, the thing I like about him is he can score going over his left shoulder or his right shoulder as an inside player. A lot of players can score; if they’re right-handed, over their left shoulder but I think he can do both.”
Lowe said the broomstick drill applied to Smith using both hands.
“That just comes with a lot of work, a lot of practice and realizing that he’s got to have good shots,” Lowe said. “He can’t just go one way; he’s got to be able to go both ways as well as use that turnaround jump shot.”
It hasn’t been the easiest thing to learn, but Smith watched former teammate Ben McCauley be effective with either hand. Last summer he spent a lot of time working with his left hand.
“It feels weird when you first start off,” Smith said. “If you keep working with it, it becomes natural and it’s just like your right hand. I feel very comfortable (using either one).”
Another way Smith has learned to score inside is using the rim to his advantage on shots called “up and unders” where he starts his move on one side of the basket and finishes on the other.
“Night in and night out every team is going to have a shot-blocker,” he said. “No matter who it is or how tall they are, I try to use my advantage, go to the other side of the rim and finish where the shot-blocker can get caught under the rim.”
Then there’s the jump shot, which he is knocking down with more regularity this season.
“After practice and before practice I’ve been shooting jumpers, 15-footers and 12-footers,” Smith said, “We had practice (Tuesday) and I shot a lot of those little jumpers and I don’t think I missed one of them, so it’s working real good right now.”
Smith hasn’t ventured out to the 3-point line yet, other than to shoot a few during practice in drills simulating the end of the shot clock or the end of a half or a game. But don’t rule it out sometime next season.
“I’m not moving out there yet,” he said with a laugh. “I’m going to get in the gym and work hard this summer, just try to expand my game more.”
Passing the ball from the post is another skill Smith has added. He has been credited with 30 assists (he had 21 for his career prior to this season) and would have more if some of the jump shots by his teammates receiving his passes had fallen.
“I know he’s been double-teamed quite a bit this year,” Maryland’s Williams said, “and he’s done a good job trying to get the ball to shooters out of the post. He’s an outstanding player and a very good team player.”
Lowe said the ability to pass the ball is Smith’s biggest improvement since he arrived on campus.
“I think his passing has been really good,” Lowe said. “This is a young man who’s being doubled by just about everybody and … he’s done a great job of finding the open man on the double teams. That’s something he wasn’t strong at early in his career here and now he’s really starting to see it and recognize it and make a good pass.”
Smith said he realized it was necessary to try something different. So, at Lowe’s urging, when he recognizes a double team, he takes a dribble away from the defense and finds the open man.
“That’s what I’ve been doing and it’s starting to work,” he said.
Like all the Wolfpack players, Smith is disappointed in the team’s record (3-10 in the ACC, 15-13 overall). There have been bright moments, such as wins at Marquette and Florida State and home-court victories over Duke and Wake Forest in its last game. NC State has three conference games left, then the ACC Tournament.
“Everybody just went out and played hard for 40 minutes,” Smith said of the Wake game. “Instead of playing half the game or 30 minutes of the game, we played 40 minutes strong.
“We need to finish out hard. We’ve got three conference games left and we’re going to try to win all those games and try to win the ACC Tournament. We’re trying to keep our heads on the positive side and keep playing until the season is over.”
Smith has made tremendous statistical strides in his career, from 3.3 points and 1.6 rebounds as a freshman to 10 points and 4.5 rebounds as a sophomore to this year’s numbers.
“He’s done a good job of being in the gym and working,” Lowe said.
That trait will continue prior to his senior year.
“I want to get stronger in the weight room, get bigger and more athletic, shoot the 15-foot jump shot more and be ready for next season,” he said.
And, of course, he’ll be ready for those pesky broomsticks.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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