June 27, 2003
By Brian Gomez
PARADISE VALLEY - Although former Arizona State forward Tommy Smith was forced to wait a little longer than he would have liked Thursday night at Sanctuary, the end result easily negated hours of anxiousness and frustration.
Having watched a vast majority of the NBA draft flash before his eyes, Smith was finally taken late in the second round by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 53 overall pick. The long-awaited selection likely would have resulted in a feeling of redemption for most aspiring players, but it marked a new beginning for an undeveloped prospect eager to prove his worthiness to the basketball world.
"This is just scratching the surface," said Smith, the last of four Pac-10 players drafted Thursday. "I'm not happy with this. I still have a lot more to do. I've got my whole career ahead of me."
Smith had his sights set on sneaking into the first round, even though most NBA analysts had him plugged somewhere in the middle of the second round. Everyone was proved wrong when the Bulls took Smith only six picks before the draft board closed.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic, teams Smith worked out for twice in the past month, both passed on chances to nab the Sun Devil product. The Lakers selected Arizona small forward Luke Walton with their lone second-round pick and the Magic opted for a virtual unknown in Turkish power forward Zaur Pachulia.
"It was a little upsetting," said Smith, who became the 32nd player in school history to be taken in the NBA draft and the first since 2000 when Eddie House was selected midway through the second round by the Miami Heat. "Just to see your name and to get drafted, I have to be happy as long as I'm on a roster."
Smith will be joined in Chicago by Kansas shooting guard Kirk Hinrich and Mississippi power forward Mario Austin, both of whom were drafted Thursday. Hinrich is expected to sign a three-year, $7.05 million deal within the next week, giving him plenty of time to begin preparations to replace injured guard Jay Williams. Smith and Austin will have to earn roster spots in the coming months during the Bulls' summer camps.
"In the offense they're running now, Tommy can pass, he can shoot and he can help create space for others," said Smith's agent, Todd Ely. "Defensively, he can trap for them. He fits there, also."
The biggest knock against Smith is his inconsistency, which was visible this month in visits to 17 NBA cities and during appearances in multiple pre-draft camps. Smith looked impressive in Portsmouth, Va., but he struggled in two of three games at Chicago.
Scouts were nevertheless impressed by Smith's leaping ability and aptitude for blocking shots. The Chicago Sun-Times calls Smith a "great leaper with exceptional athletic ability. He's considered someone with a big upside."
Said new Bulls general manager John Paxson: "Tommy Smith is a wing-running three/four that has great athletic tools. We want to take a good look at him."
Smith hopes added weight to his 6-foot-9, 205-pound frame will enable him to hold his own against many of the NBA's stronger forwards. He feels comfortable playing the No. 3 position, however, he could slide into the power forward spot if he gains 10 or 15 pounds in the off-season.
"I can guard some of the young guys in the league, and they wouldn't be able to guard me," Smith said. "If there's a bigger guy guarding me, I've got to take him off the dribble. If there's a smaller guy, I've got to post him up."
In four years at ASU, Smith established himself as the second-best shot-blocker in school history, finishing his 122-game career with 167 swats. His 1,123 career points were good for 20th place on the school's all-time scoring list.
Smith played an integral role this past season in helping the Sun Devils make the NCAA Tournament for only the third time in 22 years. The all-Pac-10 honorable mention pick led the conference with 2.16 blocks per game. He ranked second on the team in rebounds (6.2 per game) and assists (2.7) and third in points (11.2).
"Coach (Rob) Evans told me all the time about how much potential I had and about how I could be one of the best players he ever recruited," Smith said. "I came in not knowing a lot, but he told me I was going to be a better NBA player. This is what I've been looking forward to my whole life, especially since I got to ASU."
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