Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | 2 a.m.
On one hand it’s still basketball, the thing Roscoe Smith and many like him have been devoting a large portion of their lives to with great success. On the other hand, even for those who have felt like professionals during their college tenure, there’s a notable change in how this game feels day-to-day when it becomes professional for real.
“This is a business now,” Smith said, “it’s not college anymore.”
Smith is back in town playing in the NBA Summer League with the Los Angeles Lakers. He had one year of eligibility remaining but chose to leave UNLV to get started as a pro.
After starting his career at UConn, including a memorable run to the national title as a freshman, Smith came to UNLV for two years. The first he spent sitting on the sidelines as a redshirt. The second he spent collecting double-doubles and barking at opponents as the team’s de facto energy man.
There were better players, sure, but few in college looked like they were having as much fun out on the court as Smith. He finished the season with 11.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, one of only 16 players in the country to average a double-double.
Another one of those players was UNLV teammate Khem Birch. Both players eventually decided to forego their final year of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. Neither was selected.
Birch is also playing in the Summer League with the Washington Wizards. Both guys, given the hypothetical opportunity to go back in time, would still make themselves pros.
“I had a terrific year,” Smith said. “… Sometimes you just have to stay positive and be ready all the time.”
It’s unlikely that Smith would have approached the same numbers as the influx of talent would have taken a bite out of his 29.1 minutes per game. Still, he had wanted, and felt he deserved, to be drafted.
When that didn’t happen, Smith went back to work trying to catch on with one of the nearly 15 teams he had worked out for. Those visits with various organizations gave him some of his first glimpses of how to handle himself on the business side of the game.
“You’ve got to be the aggressor,” Smith said. “You can’t let anyone else decide your future. You have to make the team or players say ‘Wow.’ ”
Through three games, Smith is averaging four points and one rebound per game. His minutes have bounced from 15 to four and back up to 15 in Monday’s overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors.
That’s the type of uncertainty Smith must get used to as he tries to find his pro future. It likely won’t be with the Lakers, at least not right away, and Smith said he’s already considered Plans B, C and D should they become necessary.
That’s what he has to do, because that’s what a businessman would do and at the Summer League you never know who’s watching.
“The way I walk, the way I talk off the court,” Smith said, “everything’s a business now.”