Smith alone in carrying La Salle
La Salle junior Steven Smith likely will declare for the NBA Draft in the spring and see if he can crack the first round by playing well at the Chicago pre-draft camp in June.
Can you blame him?
Smith is averaging 21.7 points and 8.3 boards for the 5-13 (1-6 Atlantic 10) Explorers, accounting for roughly 30 percent of the team's offense. He carries more of a load than maybe any other player in a league that has a television contract (read: that you know about on a regular basis).
"He gives us a chance to be competitive," first-year La Salle coach John Giannini said. "Our situation is similar to St. Bonaventure. They're going through hard times like us but we have Steve and that allows us to get a few more wins."
The Bonnies had an academics scandal that led to a gutting of the basketball program. St. Bonaventure is 1-17 so far, 0-7 in the A-10.
The Explorers are coming off an offseason where three players were charged with sexual assault/rape in the past year. All three are gone. The coaching staff was sent packing, too.
"For us to win, we need him to be a great player, not just a good player, but we need him to get double figures in rebounds, to score, to pass out of the double teams and to keep his turnovers down," Giannini said.
How about wash the uniforms, sweep the floor, open the gym, coordinate travel, tape all of the players' ankles, and ...
"It has put pressure on him to improve his overall game," Giannini said. "A lot of players would welcome that challenge and he has. He has to be a great player every night for our team to be competitive."
Notice that word again. He keeps saying "competitive," not "win."
The Explorers did beat USC for its highest-profile win of the season. That win ultimately led to Henry Bibby being fired a week later.
La Salle also had a decent win at American, and took out Mount St. Mary's and Florida International. The one A-10 win? Of course, it was over the Bonnies.
It would have been understandable had Smith left before this season. Giannini said no one he knew at La Salle really thought Smith would leave but he did quiz him when he arrived in the summer from Maine. The staff has talked about him about declaring this spring. Smith expects he will.
"I did think about [leaving] for a little bit [last year], but I weighed the pros and cons and I'm comfortable here at La Salle," Smith said.
Smith isn't hiding his frustration. He thought the Explorers would be better now than they are and have a few more wins.
The Explorers, in Smith's estimation, underachieved a year ago, when they were 10-20 and 5-11 in the A-10. And that was with Gary Neal and Mike Cleaves, two of the players who were dismissed from school after being accused of raping a woman.
"Bad decisions were made and that has thrown things off here," Smith said.
Smith, who averaged 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a sophomore last season, said he has already talked to those close to him about a possible NBA decision. The 6-8 forward is a possible pick, but he would still have to prove it in Chicago and possibly beyond.
"Even if I'm not going to go this year, I want to be prepared as possible," Smith said. "I'm still anticipating preparing for my fourth year here, but I'm giving it a lot of thought."
How could he not be? He's Mr. Everything at La Salle. Giannini has to recruit help, but the focus of this team's offense won't change. Every possession goes through Smith this season and that likely won't change. The double- and triple-teams probably won't disappear anytime soon, either.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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