As a 5-8 junior guard, Champlin Park’s Brian Smith was ignored by rival teams. He recalled one opponent saying, “He’s not going to do anything.”
That’s changed this season.
Smith gets increased attention from opponents. But it hasn’t stopped him from increasing his scoring average from last season to become one of the top three scorers on his team.
That disrespect from opponents?
“I kind of just laughed it off,” Smith said. “I would show them what I could do, and they would stop talking by the end of the game.”
Smith is one of three captains for Champlin Park, which was 16-0 heading into Friday’s game against Andover. The others are McKinley Wright and Theo John, who signed with Dayton and Marquette, respectively, in mid-November.
It’s common for teams to focus on Wright and John, but that has proved to be a mistake this year. Smith is averaging 14.1 points per game this season after averaging 9.3 as a junior.
“He takes a lot of pressure off me and McKinley,” said John, who stands a foot taller than Smith. “Knowing that there’s a shooter like him that barely misses, he’s a huge help to our team.”
Smith sees himself as someone who Wright and John can pass to if they need someone to make a shot. John is often double-teamed, Smith said, and Wright has the ability to collapse a defense and pass the ball out to a wide-open Smith.
“He’s always had them skills in his arsenal,” John said. “He knows he has a green light, and we’re not going to second guess any of his shots.”
Last season, Smith was the sixth man on the team. This season he’s starting and his confidence is up as well. It’s a payoff from hard work and an improved work ethic, Champlin Park coach Mark Tuchscherer said.
Smith could always shoot three-pointers and score at a high rate, but now he can drive and finish at the rim.
“As a smaller guy, he’s willing to go up and into big guys,” Tuchscherer said. “That just proves that his confidence level is so much higher at this point in his career.”
The coach also praised Smith’s improved attitude and referred to him as a jokester in practice.
“When he takes things a little bit too seriously or might get down if he misses a couple of buckets, that’s not what he wants and that’s not what we want,” Tuchscherer said. “When he’s smiling and having fun with his teammates, he’s usually doing pretty well on the floor.”
He wasn’t always confident. When Smith arrived at Champlin Park, he said he was about 5-2 and 110 pounds. Smith said he got discouraged being one of the smaller guys on the court but overcame it by putting in extra hours over the summer with coaches and trainers. He now weighs 150.
“You see shorter guys in the NBA just doing damage. It proves that height doesn’t really matter,” Smith said. “Heart over height is what my dad says.”
Smith, who plans to play at Waldorf University in Iowa next year, and John have known each other since second grade and consider themselves best friends. John said he views Smith like a brother with a heart-over-height mentality.
“It’s instilled in him that he wants to compete and be a winner,” Tuchscherer said. “Brian being short is a fact, but being a great basketball player is a fact with him also.”
Mike Hendrickson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.