January 23, 2018 Currently: 58° | Complete forecast

UNLV basketball:

Childhood made UNLV’s Smith ready for anything


Sam Morris

Reggie Smith drives to the basket during the Rebels’ first scrimmage Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011.

Reggie Smith has seen things that would send most people running away screaming.

Growing up in Chicago, that’s just the way life works. Whether you give in to the temptations of the street or not, their truths and horrors creep into your life and become second nature.

“I saw my best friend get shot; my little brother’s best friend got shot right next to us,” said Smith, a sophomore guard transfer from Marquette. “Drive-by shootings and stuff like that. It was an everyday thing.”

That Smith can talk about this kind of past and then days later express his disappointment about not being able to travel back to Chicago last weekend to play against Illinois suggests a fearlessness and determination that no doubt shows up in his game. After all, it’s still home, and Smith was excited to make his debut in front of a horde of childhood friends and families.

Instead, Smith’s first minutes as a Rebel will come Monday night at home against Louisiana-Monroe.

Smith found out last Friday morning, hours before the team flight to Chicago, that he wouldn’t be able to board. The night before, when the outlook was getting more bleak, fans and teammates showed their support on social media sites like Twitter, creating the tags #freeReggie and #letReggieplay. Those same fans will be on the feet when he checks into the game.

“He’s been at UNLV long enough to know that he’ll be popular when he goes into the game,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We’ll remind him to try to not do too much, just to be himself.”

The mutual expectation from coaches and Smith is for him to come off the bench and be an aggressive defender who pushes the tempo on offense. Smith said once he selected UNLV he never doubted his decision to transfer. And the coaching change only furthered his happiness with the move, calling it a “blessing.”

“The things they want me to do, is the things I want to do on the court,” Smith said.

Smith will be the primary backup for starting guard Oscar Bellfield, who leads the team with 32.3 minutes per game. The Rebels other primary backup guards, Justin Hawkins and Kendall Wallace, will likely see slight changes in their roles as Rice figures out how best to work Smith into the rotation.

Smith has had plenty of time to imagine how he’ll fit in while watching from the bench at home and on TV when the team travels. On Saturday, he watched the 64-48 victory against Illinois on the Big Ten Network with Bryce Jones, a sophomore guard transfer from USC who will be eligible next season.

“We were so excited; rooting, screaming for our teammates like cheerleaders,” Smith said.

His teammates will do the cheering on Monday night. Louisiana-Monroe (1-10) doesn’t pose much of a threat on paper, which could mean upwards of 20 minutes on the court for Smith’s debut.

It could be a good first step towards getting into game shape as UNLV (11-2) begins a stretch of three games at home over the holidays.

“This is a perfect time,” Smith said. “… School is done. Just come out here, practice as hard as I can, go home, sleep, come back and do the same thing over again this whole break.”

It’s routines and a mentality like that that helped Smith avoid trouble growing up.

“The kids that’s there really don’t know that much about good. They just believe in all bad, they believe bad is good,” Smith said. “Me being able to get into college and representing that community helps a lot, I get a lot of support back at home. At the same time, there’s a lot of good kids out there that don’t get the opportunity to (pursue) their dreams because of the neighborhood they grew up in.”

That’s why playing in Chicago would have meant so much. Smith is a neighborhood success story that’s still being written.

And plenty of neighborhoods can lay claim to him as one of their own. Smith, who graduated from Thornton Township High School on the south side of Chicago, said he attended as many as 11 schools while he was growing up.

Each neighborhood offered similar temptations and threats. Smith kept playing.

“I never was a follower, anyway,” Smith said. “I tried to make my own path, and my path was playing basketball.”

That path continues Monday night.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Should schedule a game at Depaul sometime in the next two years. Reggie gets to play in Chicago, and we play a team from a power conference that likes to press and run. Everybody wins. Runnin' Rebels!

  2. I was disappointed for Smith that he couldn't make the trip, but I hope he has a great game playing agianst ULM and works his way into the rotation.