Duke’s Nolan Smith sees his Stock Rise

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By Paul M. Banks

I received a tweet last night that my question to Duke’s Nolan Smith, following their Final Four win over West Virginia, got some national airtime on ESPN. Glad I could get my name and the Washington Times name out there. The exchange went like this:

PB: Nolan, you stepped your game up during the post-season. Is there anything you’ve done fundamentally different or you like the brighter lights?

NS: I haven’t done anything different. I’m just trying to make sure that it’s not Jon, Kyle, and Lance’s last game. Just trying to give it my all.

The Final Four means a bigger stage, brighter lights and more pressure. And Smith has brought his game up to another level on par with all the added media attention surrounding the game. Following a career high 29 points in the Regional Final win over Baylor, Smith scored 19 (7-16 from the field, 4-9 behind the arc) against the Mountaineers. When Scheyer and Singler struggled with their shooting for much of the earlier rounds, it was Smith, the 6-2 junior from Upper Marlboro, Maryland that picked up the slack.

Obviously, the first two guys I mentioned are bigger names, but it’s Smith who might have the best NBA potential of the three. Remember his name in the 2011 NBA Draft. Duke’s two headed monster has become a three headed monster this tourney.

I followed up my question to Nolan by asking Coach Mike Kryzyzewski (yes, I FINALLY spelled that correctly from memory) to evaluate the fundamentals of his game.

“Nolan guards the ball well,” Coach K. said.

“For a little bit in the first half, he wasn’t. But he’s our best guy as far as breaking somebody down at the end of a clock or when we’re just running motion, and we give him the freedom to follow his instincts. He makes really good plays, not just shots. He’s very good with the ball. And he’s very good on the ball.

He hit some threes tonight, which he’s a good three-point shooter. But they were like when we kicked it back out and he’s ready to shoot. Nolan has played as well as anybody, especially in this tournament.”

Smith can play both guard positions; he’s got a very good first step and a great ability to finish at the rim. Singler and Scheyer may get all the ESPN pub, but Smith has one decided advantage over all the other players on Duke’s roster. I’ll let Coach K. explain:

“He’s the one guy that can {make big shots}, so when we do get to late clock situations, for the most part he would have the ball.  He’s the one guy on our team who can create his own shot. He does that well.”

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