INDIANAPOLIS – The Butler men's basketball program finds itself embarking on its 2012-13 journey with a lot of questions. However, none is as gut-churning as whether this team can survive in a new and more challenging league.
Andrew Smith is a big – both literally and figuratively – part of the answer to that question. His coach has very high expectations for the senior center, as do Bulldogs fans.
“Andrew has shot the ball well again,” Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said of early workouts.
Despite being 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds, Smith is one of Butler's more dangerous perimeter threats (35 percent from three-point range a year ago). His play will aid the Bulldogs in their initial Atlantic 10 season.
Stevens believes Smith’s unique combination of size and skill can carry him not only through the Atlantic 10 this winter, but possibly into the NBA after his graduation next spring.
“It all depends on what (teams) are looking for,” Stevens said. “Are they looking for a 35-minute-per-game player who scores 22 points a game? Or are they looking for another guy that can be a backup that can really move? Andrew Smith can really move.”
Yes, he can. Smith annually is one of the leaders in conditioning tests, and any Butler fan can recall his speed in transition at various times during games.
Smith led Butler in scoring (10.9 points per game) and was second in rebounding (5.2 per game) as a junior. He also led the team in blocks (27).
“He can score in and around the rim on put-backs and dump-downs,” Stevens said. “Plus he has good hands (so) he can really finish.”
Anyone who believes Smith is a reach as an NBA prospect can look no further than a few miles south of Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Indiana Pacers selected – in the first round, no less – a center (Miles Plumlee) who wasn't even a full-time starter at Duke as a senior and averaged just six points per game.
Another factor that favors Smith, according to Stevens, is how the sport has evolved offensively.
“The game is so ball-screen oriented,” Stevens said. “Bigs that can't move better be really good players or else they are not going to be on the floor very long, and Andrew can move.”
Smith made an impression on the Bulldog coaching staff a couple of days ago when he exhibited the ability to hedge on a screen nearly out to 25 feet from the basket and was still was able to sprint back into the play and block a shot at the rim.
“The thing that I always saw in recruiting him was that he had great quickness,” Stevens said. “For a guy his size, he can dance (defensively), he can move and he can run. He made a couple of plays in practice that were purely effort and athleticism.”
Stevens has already produced a couple of NBA Draft picks (Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack) in his tenure at Butler, something that a few years ago was unimaginable. So is Smith next?
“My talk to Andrew is 'Why not,'” Stevens said. “I think that he'll have a shot, I really do.”