When Walker Kessler entered the switch portal on March 22, offended feedback starting from pissed off to full-on vitriolic streamed into the UNC basketball freshman middle’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.
And Ok.J. Smith, considered one of Kessler’s closest buddies on the Tar Heels’ 2020-21 roster, couldn’t stand it.
“I knew Walker had no sick intent in transferring,” Smith stated. “He was genuinely harm to go away the Carolina household, and it was a tricky determination for him. Folks thought he was saying F.U. to all of the UNC coaches, which wasn’t in any respect what occurred. I imply, a switch is an enormous life determination for a latest excessive schooler.”
Smith’s lingering frustration – and, much more so, his urge to right the narrative on his teammate – made now-Auburn middle Kessler considered one of his first calls when the previous UNC level guard joined the start-up faculty sports activities and recruiting protection web site On3.com as a nationwide basketball analyst in June.
Weeks later, Kessler was publicly addressing his determination to switch for the primary time on The And 1 Show with K.J. & Joe, a brand new podcast co-hosted by Smith and On3 social media recruiting edit whiz Joe Tipton.
Smith has already teased one Kessler quote – “The pandemic affected lots of people in many various methods. For me, I simply realized I wished to be nearer to dwelling” – and stated On3 will roll out additional snippets earlier than releasing the complete podcast episode across the begin of faculty basketball season in November.
It’s only one instance of how Smith, 25, is utilizing his 4 seasons at UNC and his connections all through the Division I faculty basketball and NBA worlds to hit the bottom operating in a newly created function.
“I discovered so much from UNC about judging expertise, what an NBA professional seems like and the exhausting work it takes to get there,” Smith advised the Fayetteville Observer. “And a whole lot of it’s nonetheless recent. There’s a whole lot of gamers that I’ve seen and had my eyes on since I’ve been enjoying to the place I can say: ‘Yeah, this man is the actual deal.’”
He’s bullish, as an example, on a sophomore flourish from Caleb Love, his former teammate who entered UNC as a much-hyped five-star level guard recruit however had a historically inefficient freshman season.
That Love nonetheless averaged 10.5 factors per sport and flashed in wins over Duke regardless of capturing 31.6% from the sphere and 26.6% on 3-pointers, Smith stated, gave him confidence in Love’s breakout potential. As does Love’s offseason work with NBA coach Drew Hanlen and recent begin with new coach Hubert Davis.
Smith additionally swears by Tyson Walker, the previous Northeastern guard who torched UNC for 21 factors on 7-8 capturing within the first half of an impromptu February sport and has since transferred to Michigan State.
“He can actually fill it up,” Smith stated with fun.
School basketball, after all, makes up simply half of Smith’s duties. On the recruiting entrance, he’s scouted prospects at showcase occasions in Atlanta, Miami and Las Vegas; analyzed high 2022 gamers similar to Duke commit Dariq Whitehead, UCLA commit Amari Bailey and Kentucky goal Shaedon Sharpe; and, in an introductory column, supplied his personal private recommendation to excessive schoolers in search of recruiting consideration.
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That final level is an particularly poignant one for Smith, whose hoops profession took him from Mater Dei Excessive Faculty to IMG Academy to College of Pacific and, lastly, UNC, the place he repped the same No. 30 as his dad, former UNC and NBA star Kenny Smith, and performed three seasons as a reserve level guard.
Smith double-majored in communications and sports activities administration at UNC, and he graduated this spring as a redshirt senior. He may have used the NCAA’s blanket additional 12 months of eligibility to play at a brand new faculty, however “I knew it wasn’t for me,” Smith stated. Neither was pursuing an abroad profession.
“I didn’t know what I wished to do,” Smith admitted, and it was an odd feeling for somebody who’d spent his childhood in NBA arenas and the final decade chasing his personal basketball enjoying goals.
However Smith moved again dwelling to California and re-connected with Shannon Terry. He’d first met the longtime sports activities media govt whereas in search of out traders for The Jet Academy, the web basketball abilities coaching platform that Smith and his father – who’s now deep right into a TV analyst career on TNT’s award-winning “Inside The NBA” present – launched within the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith and Terry promptly hit it off, and Smith stated accepting the next provide to hitch On3.com, Terry’s latest sports activities media start-up following Rivals and 247Sports, was a no brainer. Smith joined the web site as a nationwide basketball analyst in June, with Terry praising his “limitless potential in media.”
Life since then has been a enjoyable and busy problem for Smith, who works out of Los Angeles and sees his job at On3 as a continuation of the all-in mindset he discovered consolation in throughout his basketball profession.
“I really like working exhausting at one thing,” Smith stated, “so I dove into On3 and advised myself I’m going to remain up all evening engaged on it – identical to I’d keep up all evening within the health club again within the day. It retains me occupied.”
And stuffed with concepts. Smith is already brainstorming in-season protection plans for 2021-22, and he retains a operating checklist of potential And 1 Present podcast company on the prepared. Requested if any extra of his former Tar Heel teammates have been on deck after Kessler, he laughed: “I’d interview all my Carolina guys if I may.”
5 days later, he posted a new article: “Senior Highlight: Garrison Brooks’ Life after UNC.”