Javonte Smart eager to excel in opportunity to take over as LSU basketball team’s point guard

1 month ago The Advocate 0

For the first two years of his tenure as LSU’s basketball coach, Will Wade put the keys to the car in the capable hands of Tremont Waters.

As the Tigers’ point guard, the former four-star recruit rarely disappointed.

Waters steered Wade’s offense with confidence — wowing with long-range shots, behind-the-back passes and high-arcing lobs that produced crowd-pleasing dunks.

He led LSU to a two-year record of 46-22 and appearances in the NIT and NCAA tournament while averaging 15.6 points and 5.9 assists, then passed the keys on as he departed for the NBA last spring.

While his are big shoes to fill after Waters earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference recognition at the end of his sophomore season, Wade thinks he has just the man to be the catalyst for his up-tempo offense in Javonte Smart.

To be sure, Smart is no stranger to the position even though he didn’t get to play there as much during his freshman season with Waters running the show.

Smart should see a definite increase in his minutes, starting with LSU’s season-opening game against Bowling Green (1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

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The chance to step in and run the team while playing some at the 2-guard as well, Smart said, was one of the reasons he decided to forego the NBA draft after initially putting his name in following a successful, but challenging, season last March.

While he put his name in to get an evaluation from the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, Smart didn’t visit any teams or even speak to any coaches or front-office execs.

“I took my name out because I knew I was coming back,” Smart said. “I just wanted to get back in the gym and get to working for this year. There was no need to go anywhere (on visits), so I stayed home and kept working.”

The Baton Rouge native did so knowing he’d get a shot at being the No. 1 point guard when Waters left, so having an opportunity to get experience there and show NBA scouts something as a combo guard was appealing to him.

“I loved playing with Tremont, and now it’s me and Skylar (Mays) in the back court,” said Smart, who started as the third guard early in the season. “It’s going to be the same thing, playing the 1 or 2.

“I like being a combo guard sometimes because for my future goals I have to be able to play both positions.”

The transition to being primarily a point guard should be an easy one, Wade said, noting Smart has played that spot going back to his elementary and middle-school years.

“I tell everybody it’s going to look a little bit different, but it’s going to be just as effective,” Wade said. “It may not be as aesthetically-pleasing with the lobs and some of the behind-the-back stuff Tremont was so special at. But Javonte’s going to get the job done at a high, high level.”

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It’s the same level of confidence Wade showed in Waters when he arrived on campus in June 2017.

In turn, Smart, who was held out of the regular-season finale last season by LSU after Wade was suspended while the NCAA looked into his recruiting practices, is showing confidence in his ability to assume Waters’ role.

“Yeah, most definitely,” Smart said. “I feel like I can help our team go far.”

That’s exactly what Wade needed to hear after Waters and Naz Reid left for the NBA and Reid’s rim-protecting partner, Kavell Bigby-Williams, graduated.

Having Mays’ experience and a group of newcomers led by five-star forward Trendon Watford and guard Charles Manning, a junior-college All-American, will be key, but stability at the point will be vital to the team’s success.

“Are the ‘wow’ plays going to be as plentiful? Probably not,” Wade said. “But I think our turnovers and things like that will be down, too.

“We’re just going to be little bit more understated is the best way to put it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be as effective or more effective.”

That belief came not only from Smart’s season averages of 11.1 points and 2.4 assists, but also from a breakout game against Tennessee when Waters was sidelined for the first of two games with an illness.

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Smart poured in a career-high 29 points to go with five rebounds, five assists and three steals while playing 44 of 45 minutes of an 82-80 overtime upset of the fifth-ranked Vols.

Smart then reached double figures in each of the next four games and wound up scoring at an 18.6 points a game clip over that five-game stretch.

“What I like about Javonte is he’s big, he’s physical,” Wade said. “He can get in the paint and he draws a lot of fouls.”

Like Wade, Mays has been impressed with how Smart has come along — starting with that Tennessee game.

“He looked super comfortable when he had the ball a lot more in his hands,” Mays said. “That’s something that really wasn’t the case last year, but I think he felt he was kind of back in his element.

“I think Javonte is wise beyond his years and understands everything’s a process. He wanted to learn as much as he could from Tremont because he performed at such a high level on a consistent basis in this conference.”

While the 5-foot-10 Waters and 6-4 Smart are very much different in stature, Mays is hoping for similar results from the position.

“Javonte did a great job last season and he’s primed to have a big year for us,” Mays said. “We need him to have a really big year.”

The basics

WHAT: Bowling Green at No. 22 LSU

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center

TV: None

ONLINE: SEC Network+ (ESPN.com/watch)

RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7

UP NEXT: at VCU, 5 p.m. Wednesday

Briefly

• Bowling Green, which is picked to win the Mid-American Conference, opened its season with a 94-83 blowout of Division II Tiffin University on Tuesday night.

• Despite the loss of three starters, LSU returns 54.3% of its scoring, 48.7% of its rebounding and 44.5% of its assists off the team that won 28 games a year ago.

• LSU, which finished the 2019  season ranked 12th in the AP poll, is ranked 22nd in the preseason and has been in the wire service poll for 10 consecutive weeks.

Probable lineups

Bowling Green (1-0)

Starters

Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.

G Justin Turner 6-4 Jr. 20.0 1.0*

G Dylan Frye 6-2 Sr. 13.0 6.0

G Davin Zeigler 6-3 Fr. 2.0 1.0

G/F Daeqwon Plowden 6-6 Jr. 16.0 12.0

C Tayler Mattos 6-11 So. 9.0 15.0

Key reserves

G Michael Laster 6-1 Sr. 8.0 7.0*

G/F Trey Diggs 6-6 Jr. 12.0 1.0

F Marlon Sierra 6-7 Sr. 2.0 8.0

* assists

LSU (0-0)

(stats from 2018-19 season)

Starters

Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.

G Javonte Smart 6-4 So. 11.1 2.4*

G Skylar Mays 6-4 Sr. 13.4 3.3

G Charles Manning 6-5 Jr. NA NA

F Darius Days 6-6 So. 5.3 4.0

F Trendon Watford 6-9 Fr. NA NA

Key reserves

F Emmitt Williams 6-6 So. 7.0 5.4

G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Sr. 6.7 3.6

G James Bishop 6-2 Fr. NA NA

* assists