FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Sophomore Austin Smith wishes the 2010-11 basketball season started tomorrow. But at least he is now a lot closer to seeing the court for the first time in over a year after sitting out the last season.
“It was rough, it really was,” said the Liberty transfer Smith. “I learned a lot this year as far as how the game is played by just sitting on the bench and being able to talk about the game with someone like Eric Platt, who was injured. It made me understand that aspect of the game.”
Smith last played in a college basketball game on March 23, 2009 when Liberty was eliminated in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. He saw action in 28 games with six starts last season as a freshman, scoring 2.8 points with 1.4 rebounds per game.
Smith, a 6-8 forward who is from Tucson, originally decided to join a Liberty program in Lynchburg, Va., that included seven freshmen who were part of a Top 50 recruiting class from Basketball Times. But he missed his family in Arizona and decided to restart his college basketball career in Flagstaff after sitting out a NCAA-mandated year due to transfer rules.
“Liberty is a great school and a great program,” said Smith. “But at Liberty I was away from family. I got one day for Christmas break, a day for spring break. I didn’t want to do that every year and miss my family for the next four years.”
But his season away from the competitive part of the game left him only practice situations this season at NAU to get better.
“Austin did a really nice job for us as a member of the gold team (our practice squad team),” said Head Coach Mike Adras. “He was really good at filling a void for us at practice. Certainly his body allowed Shane and Josh to bang against someone other than each other. From those regards, he had a productive season.”
Smith welcomed his opportunity to make his teammates better.
“Watching them play really motivated me to work harder,” said Smith. “My game days were practice when we had the gold team running the opponents’ offense. Unfortunately the gold squad did not win much.”
Smith is ready to put away the gold jersey and Adras has new expectations.
“I think he looked at this as a learning season for himself and now the gold jersey has to be put away,” said Adras. “Now you are going to be held a little more accountable. We need him to produce. He needs to have a good offseason.”
Smith joins a team coming off a 14-14 season that returns its top five scorers and 12 players overall next season. Nick Larson, who led the team in rebounding at 6.5 boards per game, will be the only departure from the squad.
“For me Austin is a part of our recruiting class for next year except that he already has a year here,” said Adras. “He will be much more comfortable than any recruit we will have next year. We are counting on him to be Nick Larson’s replacement and he already has a year experience as Nick Larson.”
While the season has been a learning experience, Smith is ready to go now.
“I can not wait to get out there,” said Smith. “I missed the game. It really brought the love for the game back. I really would not take it back for the world. I am so excited to get out there.
I think I have found a home here.”
By Steven Shaff, NAU Media Relations