Meet the Basketball Buckeyes, Day 5, comes a bit late, but with good reason. Most Buckeye fans were fairly certain that Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, and Will Buford would be 80% of the starting lineup this year, but were making guesses as to the 5th starter. We are only 7 games into the season, so there is still a chance that the lineup could be adjusted, but to make Thad Matta’s starting lineup means that he has faith in your abilities and expects you to deliver for 25-30 minutes a game…no pressure. The player that has stepped up and grabbed this 5th spot is Lenzelle Smith Jr. (#32, Sophomore), and he’s made a statement from the start that he doesn’t plan on giving it up anytime soon. So now that we know who our 5th starter is, let’s meet Lenzelle Smith Jr….finally.
Weight: 205 lbs
Hometown/School: Zion, IL/Zion-Benton Township High
Smith averaged 20 points and 8 rebounds at Zion-Benton in his senior season, and came to OSU as a solid offensive player that needed to work on his defensive presence. He was another big recruit of Matta’s, ranking 80th overall in ESPN’s Top 100 recruits in the 2010 class. Listed as a shooting guard, Smith’s size gives him an advantage over most guards in the Big Ten. He is typically used as a combo player that can range from shooting guard to small forward, depending on the opposition. Ironically, defense was the aspect of his game that drew the most criticism from scouts, but it’s that same defense that has earned him a spot on the court. Aaron Craft will be the shut-down defensive player for Ohio State, that much is certain, but Craft’s height (6’2″) limits him on who he can guard. Smith, on the other hand, has the ability and work ethic to play consistent defense and step in as the player that can replace David Lighty.
Now, before you yell at me and tell me that Lighty was one of the best defenders and leaders this Buckeye team has ever had, remember that he earned his starting position as a sophomore, and worked his way up to the leader that we all remember. Through his first 7 games (compared to Lighty’s sophomore season), Smith Jr. is averaging less points per game, but has an edge over Lighty’s young numbers in rebounds, assists, and steals per game. At this time, he is second on the team in rebounds and steals per game, and has also shown a knack for hitting 3′s, going 3 for 7 so far this year. Not a bad start. On top of that, he clearly has the right attitude to become a leader, as it was reported that he asked for the chance to guard Austin Rivers in Tuesday’s game against Duke (pictured on the right). It was also Smith who helped to get the massive Value City Arena crowd going from the start by forcing a timeout on Duke’s possession when he smothered their player against the sideline.
He has allowed Buford, Sullinger, and Thomas to take the reigns on the offensive side, and though he hasn’t attempted more than 6 shots in a game yet, he also hasn’t had a performance in which he shot worse than 50% from the field. At this time, the only thing lacking in his offensive game is more consistency from the free throw line, as he’s alarming 5 for 18 from the stripe. A few more attempts and some settled nerves, and that number should even out very soon. As is the trend with this team, though, Smith is an athlete. It may sound like an obvious statement, but in close games this year, it will make a huge difference. OSU appears to be quicker, faster up the court, tighter on defense, and a much more talented team from top to bottom, than we’ve seen in recent years.
Smith had a slight scare in the Duke game, leaving with an injury with around 2 minutes left in the “contest.” (When you win by 22 points, I feel that you have to put ”contest” in quotes) Smith jumped up roughly 8 feet in the air for a huge defensive rebound and was nudged enough by a Duke player to throw his balance off. He landed almost entirely on his hip and arm, stayed down on the court for a while, and eventually was able to walk off. However, as scary as the moment was, his positive attitude and sense of humor, something that makes this Buckeye team one of my favorites already, came out in a tweet yesterday, “Thanks everyone for the concerns, I’ll be back to my old self in a few days. Never good to fall dead on your butt unless you’re Jared Sullinger.” This hilarious reference to his most popular teammate’s biggest weapon shows that this team is having fun, and that is very important for them and their potential success this year.
Although he may be the newest addition to the court for OSU, expect big things from Lenzelle Smith Jr., both this season and in the future. He has the attitude and drive to become a leader, and with his emerging defensive talents matched up with Aaron Craft’s, it could be a long, frustrating day for any guard/forward stepping on the court across from them. Go Bucks!