Freshman point guard Jerret Smith doesn’t concern himself with what his stat line reads. His focus is on helping the Michigan men’s basketball team win in any way that he can.
But, at the Maize and Blue scrimmage last month, Smith didn’t look as though he was quite ready to make an impact this year.
As the point guard, Smith had trouble handling the ball, throwing several lazy passes that resulted in turnovers and easy buckets going the other way. At times, he looked overwhelmed by the speed of the game and couldn’t find a comfort zone.
But Smith didn’t let the sub-par performance get him down.
“It was a, ‘Welcome to college basketball,’ ” Smith said. “It was good for me, but at the same time it was a learning lesson. This isn’t high school anymore.”
When the Wolverines returned to the hardcourt on Nov. 5 for their first exhibition game against Grand Valley State, Smith looked remarkably better. He showed signs that he could contribute early to a team that returns guards Daniel Horton and Dion Harris, who both have experience at the point.
“I thought he played very well,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “To be a freshman point guard playing 18 minutes and not have any turnovers is pretty darn good.”
Although Smith utilized his learning experience in the Maize and Blue scrimmage to play better against the Lakers, the freshman shined brightest in last Friday’s game against Northern Michigan.
The Romulus native came off the bench with 14 minutes left in the first half and immediately made his presence felt. Off an inbound pass, Smith found an open Horton in the corner for a 3-pointer. And that was just the start.
Later in the first half, Smith stole the ball at halfcourt and took it all the way to the basket, laying it off the glass and absorbing contact from Northern Michigan’s Randy Alexandre. Drawing the foul, Smith finished the and-one by making the ensuing free throw.
Throughout his 22 minutes on the court, he continually proved that he had recovered from his hesitant play in the Maize and Blue scrimmage. Whether diving after a loose ball or finding the open man, Smith readily answered the call of duty.
On two different instances, Smith found himself hurtling toward each team’s bench.
In the first half, Smith saw a chance to steal a Wildcat pass and sprinted to intercept it. Paying the price for his effort, he wound up in the Northern Michigan bench after knocking the ball out-of-bounds.
And, then, with less than 10 minutes left in the game, Smith poked the ball away from the Wildcat point guard at halfcourt. As the ball rolled down toward the Michigan bench, Smith found himself in a foot race. Still, he attempted to recover the ball, diving over the Northern Michigan player and winding up crumpled in the Michigan bench.
Smith attributes his improvement to his time in practice. There, he continued to improve on his ball-handling skills, shooting and knowledge of the offense. Smith also points to the counsel and example set by Horton as a reason for his early success.
“In practice, it helps me a lot to play against Daniel,” Smith said. “It makes you that much better because, to me, he might be the best point guard in the nation. Playing against him makes you that much better.”
But Smith didn’t always exude the quiet confidence that he’s gained since playing in two exhibition games.
During his sophomore year at Westland John Glenn High School, Smith suffered a fractured ankle that limited his playing time and altered his progression as a player.
“It was just a matter of getting my weight back down and playing like I did my freshman year,” Smith said.
He recovered from that setback and transferred to Romulus High School – which he led to the Class A state championship game his senior year while averaging 15 points per game.
Coming to Michigan, the 6-foot-3 point guard credits his teammates, especially Horton, for keeping his confidence high and continually encouraging him.
“Everybody’s a leader but it just so happens that (Horton) plays the same position as me,” Smith said. “I look up to him and everything he does. He’s been through the same things that I’ve been through and more.”
With the all the support behind Smith and his marked development during this early stage of the season, it won’t be much longer before he steps into the limelight.