Dec 2, 2008

Freshman power forward towers over competition

by William Armstrong

When an athlete can find a school where he can say he has found his passion, a promising future is in sight. Liberty University has found that in the form of 6-foot-9-inch power forward and Arizona freshman Austin Smith.

Smith’s final memory of high school is winning the state championship and capturing the MVP title. Along with garnering second team All-State and first team All-Southern Arizona honors, Smith was runner-up for Player of the Year honors in southern Arizona. Smith helped Ironwood Ridge High School become the first Tucson school since 1982 to win a 5A State Title.

Smith chose Liberty over Pepperdine, Richmond, San Francisco and Washington State.

Over 2,000 miles away, Smith grew up on the other side of the country in Tucson, Ariz.

Adjustments will need to be made for Smith in culture, teammates and fans, but perhaps the biggest challenge Smith faces — off the basketball court — is the weather.

“So far, I do not like the cold,” Smith said.

Smith’s father, who played football at the University of Arizona, played a huge role in his maturation process that kept him with a good head on his shoulders.

“My dad made sure I humbled myself and really helped me make the right decisions,” Smith said.

Smith’s first three years were spent in different high schools, until he ultimately transferred to Ironwood, where he set the record for most points in a season.

“While at that school, the coach helped me improve tremendously opening up the gym to help prepare me for college,” Smith said.

The coach Smith speaks of was Coach Gary, his AAU coach. While playing for the AAU team, Smith’s future in basketball started to take form and provided great memories.

“He was a good coach and person, and just hanging around him (made) you want to play better,” Smith said. “I will always remember the relationships I built, and all the places I went to, which have prepared me for the tougher competition that I will encounter.”
Since coming to Liberty, Smith thinks highly of Head Coach Ritchie McKay, which will only help during the adjustment period.

“McKay is more religious and a smart guy, not like your average coach, and he does not have a mean nature,” Smith said. “He pushes me harder than any other coach, and these have been the hardest practices I have ever gone through.”

McKay favors a running-based team, and Smith is no stranger to that, having played under a running-style coach in AAU. Smith is also looking forward to playing his home games at the Vines Center in front of a much bigger fan base.

“I have played on running teams, and we were able to out-run other teams. Here at Liberty, this team runs harder and faster than what I am normally accustomed to,” said Smith. “I love that aspect of coming over here, but we have to play better to get more fans in the arena.”

Outspoken in his faith and his father’s guidance, Smith’s longing to stay on the right path and go to a university that suits him are what brought him to Liberty Mountain.

“Give all the credit to God. He has given me everything I can ask for, and my dad has kept my head on straight,” Smith said. “Here, I will be watched spiritually, whereas in other places I could get away with anything.”

Finding the right school was key for Smith, and that means more than just basketball.

“The biggest difference Liberty has over other places is God is the center here,” Smith said. “If we honor God, he will honor us. I am looking forward to the spiritual aspect of basketball.”

Smith says the only thing that is going to be really hard is making new fans and friends, since this is his first time on the East Coast and so far away from home. Making friends is a necessary component of adjusting and Smith says he has formed special bonds with teammates Tyler Baker and Jeremy Anderson.

“Tyler and Jeremy have really opened up to me, accepted me and helped me adjust,” Smith said. “Just surrounding myself with the right people and being around other Christians will be a great help for me.”

His goals this year are to help the team in whatever role he is given.

“I’ve never focused on points. I will always work hard. Being around Christians, we are all on the same page, and now that I am at this type of place I have something to work for,” Smith said. “As a team, we represent something bigger than us and our school. We have an edge over teams in that all things are possible through God.”


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