SOUTHPORT - A Big Ten recruit, Basil Smotherman wasn't even an Indiana junior all-star last season, nor was he even all-county, settling for honorable-mention status in that regard, something of a back-handed compliment to a player who'd been committed to play at Purdue since his sophomore year.
In the off-season, the forward was determined to do something about it.
"Not making the Indiana All-Stars and being honorable-mention all-county last year, it kind of made me made a little bit," Smotherman said. "I told my dad I wasn't feeling like I shouldn't have been on there, and he said, 'Next year you have to prove to them you should've been on there.' I've been putting in work and trying to prove I am one of the best."
It's paying off.
The forward/wing from Lawrence North has reversed whatever inconsistencies have held him back in past seasons.
He's leading a good LN team, averaging 17.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, way up from last season, his first in the Wildcat program after he moved over from Heritage Christian.
"Last year wasn't really my best year of high school basketball, but Coach (Jack) Keefer brought me in and settled me down a little bit and gave me a lot of confidence going into each game," Smotherman said. "I wrote on my shoes, 'Next play,' and that's what I have to do: (Focus on) the next play and keep playing. I know I'm one of the better players in Indiana and I just have to keep showing that I am."
So far, so good.
At this point, Smotherman should be considered a lock for the Indiana All-Star team. After his junior season, he wasn't even named one of the 18 players named to the junior all-star squad.
"He's playing free and loose," Keefer said of Smotherman. "The kids this year really like each other and they play well together and work well together."
Smotherman's been at the heart of it.
He said last year's team "didn't have a real good bond." Smotherman struggled at times to fit in after transferring over.
"I didn't feel comfortable last year coming over," Smotherman said. "This year I feel good. I'm focusing again. For 32 minutes, I'm focused."
The comfort level in Smotherman today has been clearly apparent and the Wildcats' improved chemistry has been reflected in its 9-2 record.
Since his freshman season at Heritage, Smotherman's jump-shooting has been hit and miss, but since July, he's been making shots, perhaps an indication of comfort.
As a senior for Lawrence North, he's shooting 53 percent from three-point territory, 63 percent on two-point baskets, many of which has been mid-range jump shots and runners in the lane.
"He's shooting it at more appropriate times and in better situations," Keefer said. "It goes in when he's shooting in rhythm. You're seeing that now."
Smotherman said it's been about finding his "sweet spots" and making sure he's only shooting when he has the best chance to make them.
But he's made tough shots, also, like the long turnaround he nailed out of quasi-post-up from about 16 feet against Pike Friday night at Southport High School.
"Coach Keefer said I have to keep being aggressive," Smotherman said, "because I'm bigger than most 2s, 3s and 4s and it clicked in my mind that I have to use my body and my size."
Physical maturation has been inextricably linked to Smotherman's progress.
When Purdue recruited him - it offered a scholarship when he was in eighth grade, though he didn't find out 'til a year later - he has 6-4, 180 pounds or so. Today, he looks the part of a college sophomore, standing 6-foot-7 and approaching 225 pounds, complementing the athleticism that got him recruited in the first place.
"Your confidence goes up," Smotherman said of his developing body and added strength. "When you're in the weight room and you've put on muscle, your confidence goes up and you might feel like nobody can stop you and you can feel like you can play with anybody, you can play with the best."
Purdue will ask for that sort of mentality from Smotherman as a defensive player, the phase of the game where his potential might be greatest due to his versatility and physical characteristics.
"That's something I'm really working toward," Smotherman said. "At Purdue ... they play defense and every time you walk out there, it's time to play hard. Every time you step out in Mackey Arena, you have to play defense, play hard and do little things, because that's what Coach (Matt) Painter's playing you for.
"He's told me, 'If you play defense, you'll be on the court.' That's what I'm trying to do."
Next season, Smotherman will have to prove himself at Purdue to get on the floor.
But this entire season for him has been about proving himself.
"I feel like I'm proving myself and each and every game I'm getting better, but I'm not there yet," Smotherman said. "I still have some things to work on: Moves, going right, rebounding, defense. I'm not satisfied yet."
Smotherman says he isn't there yet.
Begs the question: Where's there?
"There is, I don't know where there is yet," he said. "Maybe it'll come when I'm 25 or 30 or while I'm at Purdue.
"I have to keep working and pushing. I have to keep doing what I'm doing."
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