Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Ray Smith interview
Ray Smith sits on the Las Vegas High basketball team’s bench yelling instructions to teammates on the court. A whistle blows for a timeout and the 6-foot-7 forward gingerly rises from his seat to greet players with encouragement.
Smith tore his ACL last summer during a recruiting event in Chicago, ending his senior season before it began. But instead of lamenting a lost season and the long hours of rehabilitation, Smith is making the best out of his circumstance.
“He’s still a leader around here,” Las Vegas coach Jason Wilson said. “He presses the kids and holds them accountable for not working hard and for mistakes. I know it is hard for him to sit and watch.”
Smith is still one of the best players in Southern Nevada, being named for the second straight season to the Sun’s Super Seven preseason team. Smith, who signed in November with the University of Arizona, is one of three from the Super Seven team ranked as a five-star recruit for the class of 2015. He’s considered the nation’s No. 11 overall prospect by Rivals.
“I was watching something the other day, and a lady was asking God, ‘Why me, Why me?’ ” Smith said. “The real answer is, why not her. So why not me? I try to stay positive. I won’t sit down and sulk. I know there is more basketball ahead of me.”
When he arrives at Arizona, Smith will be a better student of the game. Sitting and watching has allowed Smith to take a more analytical approach to basketball. He talks to teammates in timeouts like he’s one of the coaches.
“I had a lot of coaches calling to say how disappointed they were for me because obviously losing Ray takes away from the team,” Wilson said. “My first thought was for him and not being out there with the guys and his friends. I felt worse for him than us.”
Smith, who averaged 24.7 points, six rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last year, developed from a three-star recruiting prospect to someone experts say has a legitimate opportunity to be a professional. He’s a pure scorer and aggressive taking the ball to the basket.
“As good as he was last year during the season, he had gotten so much better over the summer,” Wilson said. “He is awesome in transition on both ends of the court, finishes well at the rim, is a great rebounder and shot blocker, and plays great defense.”
That also describes other members of our preseason team. Here’s a look:
Nick Blair, Bishop Gorman High
Nick Blair interview
About Nick: Blair’s vertical jump is about 40 inches and most games he uses that ability for a highlight-reel style type of plays. But his game is more than those dunks. He’s developed an above average jump shot and has blossomed into a strong rebounder. “I went from being a regular athlete who ran the floor and jumped around a lot to someone who is starting to slowly get the game and get better every day,” Blair said. His progress was evident last year in Gorman’s most significant win of the season, when it beat Henderson-based national power Findlay Prep for the first time in seven tries. Blair hit a buzzer beater to force overtime and finished with 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting in what proved to be his coming out party. He’s continued to progress in becoming one of the area’s best.
Troy Brown Jr., Centennial High
Troy Brown Jr. interview
About Troy: The sophomore Brown averaged 15 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.7 steals per game last season to catch the eye of major colleges. He already has scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Duke, Kansas and Louisville. CBS ranks him as the nation’s No. 3 best player regardless of classification. Brown still practices like a player with much to prove. “Guys get too caught up into the hype,” Brown said. “That’s how you settle because you think you are the guy.” This summer, though, Brown was the guy in being recognized as one of the top players at the LeBron James Skills Academy. The event was played in front of NBA scouts. “Troy is so humble,” Centennial coach Todd Allen said. “That’s the scary thing. He’s still going to get better.”
Jordan Davis, Canyon Springs
Jordan Davis interview
About Jordan: The senior Davis wasn’t promoted to the Canyon Springs varsity team until the end of his sophomore year, giving the Pioneers an instant spark by averaging nearly 20 points per game in the postseason to help them win the Sunrise Region championship. “It humbled me,” Davis said of playing junior varsity. “Me and my parents always talked after games. They said, ‘When you get your shot, don’t blow it. Step up.’ That is what I did.” Davis averaged 16.3 points per game last winter in leading Canyon Springs to another Sunrise title. They lost to Gorman in the state championship game — another humbling experience in his progression. “I knew after this season was over and going into the summer that a lot of teams are going to key on me (this year),” said Davis, who signed last month with Northern Colorado. “What can I do to make my name in the game?”
Colby Jackson, Clark High
Colby Jackson interview
About Colby: The 5-foot-9 Jackson is usually one of the smallest players on the court. He’s also one of the fastest, using his speed to help Clark win the Division I state championship last year. “I use my quickness to get past my defender. Once they see I’m quicker, they back off and the jump shot is open,” Jackson said. Jackson is in his third year as Clark’s point guard, leading the Chargers to a 54-8 record. Two years ago, it won 25 straight games. “I’m a pass-first point guard,” he said. “I always look for my teammates to get a bucket first.”
Chase Jeter, Bishop Gorman High
Chase Jeter interview
About Chase: During last year’s state championship game, Jeter was unstoppable on the inside in scoring 21 points and grabbing 20 rebounds to lead Gorman past Canyon Springs for its third straight state title. For the senior Jeter, who last month signed with Duke and is a consensus top-10 recruiting prospect, the game was another example of the strides he’s made. He went from being raw in talent as a sophomore to a can’t miss prospect. “It’s a mindset and being assertive on both ends of the floor,” said Jeter, a two-time Super Seven recipient. Jeter averaged 14.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and three blocks per game last season, and continued to have solid performances on the AAU circuit to skyrocket up the recruiting rankings. Part of his offseason included winning a gold medal for Team USA’s 18-and-under team. “That was a really special experience,” Jeter said.
Stephen Zimmerman, Bishop Gorman High
Stephen Zimmerman interview
About Stephen: Four years ago, when Stephen Zimmerman saw his first varsity action for Bishop Gorman, he weighed about 170 pounds and was more comfortable playing on the perimeter. Now a senior, Zimmerman is a force on the inside and out, a skilled big man who has college coaches lining up for his services. “Since my freshman year I have definitely started to get more aggressive and play more physical,” Zimmerman said. “But that’s another thing I am still working on.” Last season, he averaged 15.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and three blocks per game, maintaining his ranking as a top-five recruiting prospect. He’s picking among Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and UNLV. But, first, his top priority is helping Gorman win a fourth straight state championship.