YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Do The Hustle? It's a Family Tradition for USIU's Steve Smith

February 05, 1989|RICK HAZELTINE

SAN DIEGO — If you're at a local gym and see four guys who look as if they couldn't give a group of junior high kids a good game, look again.

If the tallest player is 6-feet-2 and the group tosses up a combination of soft shots that hit nothing but air or hard shots that bounce halfway back to midcourt, ask them their names.

And if they all say Smith, believe them . . . and watch out.

The big man is Steve Smith, starting point guard on the U.S. International University men's basketball team and City Eastern League co-player of the year his senior season at Serra High School. The others are Steve's father, James (5-10), and his two brothers, Shed (5-9) and Scott (5-11).

Many an unsuspecting opponent has fallen on the Smiths' nights out. Three or four times a week, the family heads to a local gym to play some hoops and teach a few lessons.

"Everytime we play, we act like we can't play," Steve Smith said. "We just throw the ball up there. Other teams would laugh, and they'd see our two short players. We'd ask them if they wanted to play and they'd say, 'You're kidding, you want to play us ?' "

The Smiths would pick up a fifth player and then the fun would start.

"It was my dad's idea," Steve said. "We'd play to 15 by ones and when we were losing, like, 8-5, he goes, 'You ready to play?' "

And the Smiths always are.

"It was fun watching the other guys," Steve said. "They were worried about me and mydad, and they'd let Shed and Scott shoot all day. They'd get beat and then go get the best five from a bunch of guys."

Just another evening at the gym with the Smith family.

Family is a big part of Steve's life. His father spent 26 years in the Navy and the family moved every two or three years. Life in the military can either break a family apart or bring it closer together.

Fortunately for the Smiths, they pulled together. Sometimes family is all you have when you're always the new kid on the block.

"It wasn't too bad because our family was so close," Steve Smith said.

Athletics are a big part of it. Smith's father played football in high school, his mother is a good bowler, his sister dances, Scott plays basketball at San Diego Mesa College and Shed is a junior who plays basketball and baseball at Mira Mesa High.

The family support also shows up in Steve's academics. He had a 3.7 grade point average at Serra and is on course to graduate with a degree in business at USIU.

Steve, the oldest, has also gone the furthest in athletics. He played in 24 games as a freshman at USIU, starting two. He has been the Gulls' starting point guard ever since.

By USIU standards, Smith is an old-timer. Although he is a junior, Smith is the only player on the roster in his third season.

Coach Gary Zarecky started Smith at point guard because he didn't have anyone else to put there. Smith, a forward in high school and is more of a natural off-guard, wasn't really pleased.

Each of the past two seasons, Zarecky said he had more talent and would be able to move Smith to off-guard. And each year, Smith is back at the point.

"He has sent me two different signals," Zarecky said. "The first year he went reluctantly. Then, when I was looking for a point guard, he said he didn't want to be moved (away from the point)."

Smith agrees that he initially was not enthralled with the prospect of playing the point.

"I wanted to play the No. 2 guard my first two years," Smith said. "Now I want to play the point. It doesn't bother me too much."

At least not as much as the player turnover he's seen at USIU.

"It's hard to play with guys like this," he said, alluding to the Gulls' four new starters. "In high school, you played with everybody for four years."

The ever-changing roster at USIU (8-14 this season) is understandable; Zarecky is trying to bring in better talent each year. And Smith sees the improvement.

"As a whole, this is the best team since I've been here," Smith said. "Before, we didn't have a bench. Now we can put the bench in and don't have to worry."

The Gulls have four players averaging in double figures, including Smith at 11.8 points. Last season, he was second on the team in scoring at 12.8. This year, with more firepower, the Gulls are relying more on Smith to run the offense than score.

Smith led the team in assists with 82 last year. He already has 95 this season and still has seven games to play. If Smith stays at his current average, he will surpass the USIU record of 121 assists in a season, set by Joe Yezbak during 1986-87.

Although he is feeling more confident in the point guard role, Smith is still getting used to it.

"It was kind of hard," Smith said. "I was used to crashing the boards a lot and now I have to stay back and play defense. I'm not worried about my scoring. My points have dropped a little bit, but I have a lot more assists than last season."

It's easy to understand why Smith is drawn to putting the ball in the hoop rather than passing it off. He was raised putting a ball through a hoop.

"My dad started me when I was 15 months old," Smith said. "He told me I had this toy with a basket and a little ball and I'd throw it in and it would make a dinging sound. I used to just sit there and do that.

"When I got too big for that, he put a little basket on the front door about four feet high. Then when I outgrew that, he took a hanger and made a hoop out of it and hung it on the close line. The ball barely fit in, it was only (a half-inch) bigger than the ball. My dad said I'd make 6 out of 10."

Smith finally progressed to the real thing, and his father was there to coach him.

"He taught me a lot about basketball," Smith said. "He taught me how to play inside, how to go up strong. How to go to the hoop."

And how to teach someone a lesson.

Los Angeles Times Articles