PITTSBURGH — Tarin Smith hasn’t played a game yet for Duquesne, but he’s already among the young leaders on the Dukes men’s basketball team.
Smith, a redshirt sophomore, sat out all of last season after transferring from Nebraska, where he spent his freshman season. It’s been a long 19 months or so since Smith last competitively took to the basketball court, and he’s raring to get started on the 2016-17 season.
After waiting an entire year, Smith had another small setback towards his return to the court this year. He had minor knee surgery over the summer, which caused him to miss training camp, but he’s expected to be ready to go for the opener on Nov. 11 against Loyola.
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“[I’ll definitely be ready] for the start of the season,” Smith said. “It was kind of a buildup. I felt some clicking in my knee, but it didn’t hurt and then one day I was working out and I jumped to dunk and that’s when I first started to feel the pain. I thought it would go away, and I played on it again, and that’s when I was like, I need to get an MRI or something.
“My last basketball would have been the first game of the Big Ten Tournament my freshman year. I’m more than ready, more than excited. It feels like forever. Even sitting out now, I’d rather be running up and down with my team. Once you sit out for a whole year, sitting out for any time sucks. I’m just ready to be back for real.”
The 2016-17 team will be pretty drastically different than the one when Smith arrived on campus a little over a year ago, especially in the backcourt. Gone are longtime mainstays Derrick Colter and Micah Mason. Instead, Smith, junior Rene Castro and freshmen Mike Lewis and Spencer Littleson will make up a more-diverse backcourt than the Dukes have had in a while.
“I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities for the whole team,” Smith said. “There’s competition at every spot. I think that’s one of the glaring differences from last year to this year is that there’s competition at every spot. There’s people that — if you’re not playing your game — can step up and take your spot. I think the team’s really dynamic.
“I think we’re going to be more diverse. We have a lot of guy with the capability on offense to do a lot of things differently than last year. On any given night, we have five or six guys that can have big scoring nights.”
Part of the process of building that depth has been getting the freshmen ready for potentially big roles, and Smith said he’s enjoyed that as much as his own development.
“I really like it a lot,” he said. “I think seeing Mike Lewis, Spencer and Isiaha, all of them, just telling them things I see on the court. This is the first time in my career that I’ve been able to confidently tell people, ‘You did this, you should do this next time,’ or where to go on a certain play. That just comes with being a leaders and being a veteran. I’m a sophomore on the court, but I feel like I’m a veteran because I’ve been in college basketball for two years. I really like it. I think the guys listen to me, I think they like me and I think they respect my opinion on things.”
Smith also feels that he’s taken advantage of the time away from the court to improve his game fundamentally. It was no secret that Colter and Mason would be moving on and that Smith would likely be in line for a big part of their role this season. It’s one of the reasons he came to Duquesne in the first place.
“The redshirt year — that’s what it’s for. To work on all facets of your game. I really think I did that,” he said. “I’m definitely 100 times more confident. I think the redshirt year has helped me with that a lot. I’m a better leader. I noticed that about myself. I’m a lot better leader as far as reading the game, telling people where they can go, things I’ve seen from sitting out on the sideline.”
Ferry said that you can’t replace players like Colter and Mason on a one-for-one basis and that the team will be different offensively. One of the ways Smith expects that to change is a more uptempo style with the amount of athleticism he and the other youngsters can bring to the table.
“Everyone came here to play in Coach Ferry’s offense, the style of play that we have and the tempo,” Smith said. “I think with the skilled bigs that we have and the guards that we have really fit the style of offense we have. If we play the right way and we’re playing to together, it could be fun. … I think that brings us closer as a team. That’s another dynamic about this team that I’m looking forward to this year.”