Ray Smith: On The Brink
Junior swingman Ray Smith of Las Vegas (Nev.) High School has a bright future basketball, but he’s grown tired of the “potential” label he’s been tagged with. This season he’s been doing something about it and it will be noticeable to the basketball community this upcoming spring and summer.
Deep on the Eastside of Las Vegas this past Thursday night, the boys basketball team at Las Vegas High School was looking to extract its revenge on Canyon Spring (Las Vegas). The Pioneers defeated Las Vegas 91-78 earlier in the season and Las Vegas liked its chances this time around in the friendly confines of its own gymnasium.
Las Vegas was competitive early, but defensive lapses and turnovers in the backcourt led to Canyon Springs taking a 46-33 halftime lead. In the second half, Las Vegas picked up the intensity, but the Pioneers kept coming. They essentially put the game away on back-to-back breakaway dunks, including a strong one-handed throw down by UTEP commit Shaq Carr.
The 86-68 loss was a learning lesson for a Las Vegas High team with no seniors in its starting lineup. For 6-foot-7 wing Ray Smith, the game was a snapshot of a 18-month old maturation process he hopes will conclude this summer with the “potential” tag being shed from his basketball profile. Eighteen months ago, the Las Vegas High junior didn’t really have any labels or tags. This spring and summer, Smith is going to be one of the nation’s most watched players on the circuit.
“I’ve been working on all aspects of my game trying to become what my potential is,” Smith said. “I’m tired of hearing about that. This summer will be big.”
“That” is the consensus among scouts and the college coaches recruiting him that Smith’s best days are far ahead of him. The Las Vegas native didn’t have his best outing against Canyon Springs, but his numbers didn’t camouflage his abilities.
Smith has a feathery jumper and gets good elevation on it. Although not physically strong in his upper body (yet), Smith has excellent body control while penetrating and has good instincts around the basket. Like many young players, his handle is a bit loose but overall, it’s not hard to see why nearly all of the Pac-12, UNLV and San Diego Stare are vying for his services and have offered him a scholarship.
“Where he’s come from last year to this year has a lot to do with what he’s dealing with,” said Bobby Smith, Ray’s father and a 1995 graduate of Rancho (Las Vegas). “He’s hard on himself. Eighteen months ago I was taller than him. When you’re 6-foot-2 and wake up 6-foot-8, it changes everything. He’s learning to deal with opinions.”
Despite his 12-point outing, Ray Smith is averaging 24.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range for a 18-6 team. Not exactly poor numbers for a player who felt he, “wasn’t really good a year ago.”
Ray, 17, credits his father with helping him develop the mentality of a great player. He began playing at six years old and joined his first travel team when he was nine, but didn’t become serious about the game until he was 15 years old.
“I definitely learned more about the mental aspect of the game from my dad,” Ray Smith said. “I was struggling with knowing who I was and being aggressive. Now it’s like ‘you can do this.’ He’s the ultimate coach.”
“I was in the military and wasn’t around too much.” Bobby Smith said. “I got full custody of him at 15. I told him I would support whatever he wanted to do. He came back to me and said ‘I want to play basketball’. I told him it’s time to go to work.”
While his on-court focus is becoming crystal clear, Ray Smith’s future still has a wide path. It’s clear he’ll end up at a bigger program than the mid-major plus level his favorite player — Indiana Pacer and Fresno State alum Paul George — did.
Smith will likely end up at a program with an up-tempo offense that gives its wings and shooting guards some freedom with the ball. Whether he makes local fans happy or spends more time traveling like his father used to is still to be decided. In fact, it’s still to be seriously discussed.
“When we talk about, I kind of see both sides,” Bobby Smith said. “I encourage him to travel and be successful, but at the same time he’s my son and I love him so of course I wouldn’t mind if he was near by.”
Both father and son say the same thing about the recruiting process — “Not there yet.”
For Ray Smith, the task at hand is pretty straightforward. He’s not looking too far ahead, although his words show just how big an impact the work he’s currently doing has on his future.
“My focus is to be great, instead of a ‘could be.'”