Derrik Smits is not his father. Let's get that out there first. He likely will not be 7-4. He might not ever play in the NBA.
That's not the point. It's not his burden. Smits is a rapidly growing Zionsville High School freshman and a key member of the Spiece Indy Heat 15U team coached by Jim Reamer. He has basketball promise, just as his father, Rik, once did.
Where it leads is anyone's guess.
In fact, Reamer says, where it leads is exactly the point.
“The key with him is his future,” Reamer says. “We talk about what he will be over what he is and was last year.”
Smits was a JV player this past season for Zionsville, although he did dress with the varsity late in the season. In his first season with Spiece Indy Heat, he barely played.
“Last year he had a hard time getting on the floor,” Reamer says. “Now he gets on the floor and is able to compete.”
In one year, Smits grew six or so inches. Reamer says Smits is “hitting 6-9.” Smits says he's 6-10. He's often listed at 6-11, but those listings often reflect wishful thinking. He's also listed at 210 pounds and he needs 20 or 30 more to be a major factor against high-level competition.
“He's better,” Reamer says, “and some of that is the inches. Some of that is being tougher and more competitive. Being able to make plays. Being able to take contact and finish plays.”
Smits takes advantage of his father's experience. Rik played for the Indiana Pacers from 1988 to 2000. He was an NBA All-Star and averaged 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds for his career before foot problems forced him into retirement. His playing size was listed at 7-4 and 250 pounds. Even today, when he attends his son's games, he looks fit enough to play.
“I work with my dad a lot,” Derrik says. “He's helped with my outside shot. We're working on down low and post moves. I need to rebound better.”
That's true of every young post player. IU All-America forward Cody Zeller wasn't born a complete player. Neither was former Purdue All-America JaJuan Johnson, now playing for the Boston Celtics. They worked to improve, and did so at their own pace. Zeller made All-America as a freshman. Johnson got there as a senior.
While nobody is predicting All-America honors at this stage for Smits, Reamer sees the potential.
“His upside is tremendous,” he says. “His dad works with him and he's every bit as patient with this process as we are. We want to get him ready to be, hopefully, a big-time player when he's 16-under, 17-under.”
Some of that could depend on how much taller Derrik gets.
“Derrik is probably about two inches behind his dad at the same age,” Reamer says. “If it stays that way, I'll take him at 7-2. I'll be good with that.”
Adds Derrik: “I wish I could pass my dad, but I don't think it will happen.”
Last year, Derrik's shoe size went from a 14 to a 16 and he grew six inches. This year, his shoe size has gone from 16 to 18.
“I'm hoping he grows another six inches this year,” Reamer says with a smile. “If he does, we'll have a 7-3 kid by this time next year. I kind of doubt it, but I'll be happy with 6-11.”
Reamer has coached just one 7-footer. That was Chas McFarland, who went on to play at Wake Forest.
“Chas was pretty special and Derrik has a chance to be special, too,” Reamer says.
The younger Smits visited Indiana last weekend, and Purdue before that. He hopes to visit Butler and Xavier next month. Michigan State, Michigan and Mississippi State also have shown interest.
Smits wants to make varsity impact for what should be a very strong Zionsville team next season. He'll need size, strength and consistency, and Reamer sees that day coming.
“He's got great feet. He's got great hands. He just had to learn how to play with contact and finish plays.”
If he does, well, who knows? Some day the son just might surpass the father.