Jordan Smith, a junior from Orono who is on the Wisconsin basketball team, has played in 14 games this season and will dress for the Badgers against Duke on Monday night for the national championship game. It’s his second consecutive Final Four.
Smith was a standout player at Orono, playing for coach Barry Wohler and winning a Class 3A state championship in 2011. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,518 points. Smith, an economics major, is the son of Gregg Smith, who played football for the Gophers.
Jordan Smith talked about Associated Press Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, his roommate of three years, who will have a great challenge Monday night going against Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.
“It’s pretty incredible how much he has gotten better over the years,” Smith said. “Last year he kind of broke out at this time during the tournament, started playing really well. This year he has had the national player of the year run, and it has been really fun to watch his progression over the last couple of years.
“He’s worked his tail off since he got here on campus four years ago, and that has gotten him to where he is today. He is a great kid. You couldn’t see it happen to a better person. He’s just a goofball. He and I have been best friends since we got here to Wisconsin, and I’m just really proud of him and happy he has had the success that he’s had.”
Smith said that right now the hottest shooter on the team is Sam Dekker, who has averaged 20.6 points per game in the tournament.
“Sam has been huge for us these last few games, since the tournament [started],” Smith said. “I just saw some stats and … all of his percentages are up and he’s playing really well. That just shows the kind of kid he is. It gets down to the wire and he starts making big shots for us and starts playing really well. I think that speaks to his confidence and his ability.”
Wanted another shot
Smith redshirted last season so he didn’t play as the Badgers made their way to the Final Four before losing to Kentucky, but he was along for the ride and feels that this season has been about improving on that result.
“Last year was tough,” he said. “We got really excited. Just getting to the Final Four was kind of our goal all along. I think we set our goals a little bit too low last year. Now this year we came back and kind of expected to be here. It was a great win, but we’re excited to get another 40 minutes on Monday to play for the national championship.”
Smith said that learning under coach Bo Ryan has been especially rewarding the past four years.
“Coach Ryan has had his system for 40 years, and he can coach basketball,” he said. “Once you can get guys with the kind of talent we have to buy into such a great system, there’s no telling what we can do. It has been a great four years that I’ve spent with him, and getting to know him and his coaching style and getting to know him personally has been a great experience.”
Looking for revenge
Wisconsin will be looking for payback Monday night. Duke defeated the Badgers 80-70 in Madison in December. It was Wisconsin’s lone home loss this season.
“That was a tough game,” Smith said. “I think Duke shot something ridiculous from the field, like 68 percent or something [65.2 percent on 30-for-46 shooting, to be exact], they hardly missed. We put that aside, think about that a little bit, and get a little bit excited to get another shot at them.”
In that loss Smith got to see the college play of Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones up close. Smith is familiar with Jones from playing high school ball in Minnesota, but Jones scored 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting in that game to go with six rebounds and four assists.
Smith knows that containing Jones will be a key concern for the Badgers defense.
“Tyus is a great player,” Smith said. “I had a chance to watch him grow up back when I was in Minnesota. He’s a great player. He’s obviously progressed tremendously since I saw him last in Minnesota.
“He came to Wisconsin and played a heck of a game there. He’s playing really well this year, and hopefully we can go out and stop him defensively and have Frank shut down Okafor and see what we can do.”
Incidentally, two of the four national titles Duke has won under Mike Krzyzewski were won in Minneapolis at the Metrodome, in 1992 and 2001. Jones was at that 2001 Final Four. He was 5 years old and attended the event with his parents. Now 14 years later he will play for his own championship Monday night.
Knight knows perfection
Former Indiana head coach Bobby Knight is still the last coach to lead a Division I men’s basketball team to an undefeated season after Kentucky got beat 71-64 by Wisconsin on Saturday to finish the season 38-1.
Knight, whose 1975-76 team was unbeaten at 32-0, had said a few weeks ago that it wouldn’t surprise him if the Badgers beat Kentucky if they had a chance in the NCAA tournament. He was right.
“I think that Wisconsin plays basketball as well as anybody in the country plays, at both ends of the floor. Bo Ryan has done a great job with this team and a great job at Wisconsin,” Knight said Saturday night on the phone after the Badgers had handed the Wildcats their first and only loss. “They play very well together and do the things that have to be done, starting with defensive play to enable them to be in position.”
Knight was asked to recall his undefeated season, and he pointed out that the year before Indiana had lost just one game, to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, finishing 31-1. Knight was convinced the Hoosiers wouldn’t have lost that game if their leading scorer, Scott May, hadn’t been injured and limited to seven minutes of playing time.
Knight credited the success of his undefeated squad to Bobby Wilkerson and Quinn Buckner, whom he described as the best pair of defensive guards who ever played in college.
“Prior to that [first] practice I met with our team and told them that the only thing that would be satisfactory to me in this particular season wouldn’t be winning the Big Ten championship or national championship, it would be you guys going undefeated, because that’s what you’re capable of doing. And they did. That was really an interesting part of my career in coaching,” he said.
Incidentally, talking about Big Ten basketball, Richard Pitino has said he is in the process of trying to line up a home-and-home series with his father Rick Pitino’s Louisville team.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org