Rodney Smith entered his name into the transfer portal a few months ago while looking for a new Division I National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) basketball program to join for the upcoming 2020-21 season.

Following a solid freshman campaign at Pensacola State where he was forced to play off of the ball as the ‘2’ guard, Smith was looking for a new situation where he could potentially lead the offense every time up the court. After having conversations with coaches Scott Raines and Junsie Cotten, the quick and athletic guard decided to commit to the Hawks over several other offers he had to choose from.

“Me and Coach Cotten definitely clicked right away,” Smith said. “I connected with the coaching staff and I feel like I fit with them the best.”

Every athlete has a unique journey and they all seem to have different goals that they hope to achieve during the course of their athletic careers. Transferring from a program does not mean that the athlete is quitting, it means that they were looking for a new situation that could help them reach their full potential.

Smith believes that Howard will help him achieve his goals and he is really looking forward to the versatile system that Raines runs. Most coaches might keep their system the same for years and years while forcing each player they have to fit into their system. On the other hand, Raines always adapts his game-plans to fit his players and their strengths.

“I love how Coach Raines builds his system around his players and depending on the type of players that he has is the type of way that he’s going to play,” Smith said. “Most coaches have a set system and some of their players don’t do well because the system doesn’t fit them. Coach Raines adjusts his system to the players.”

Smith grew up about 25 minutes outside of Atlanta and attended Chamblee Charter High School where he would average over 20.0 points per game during his senior season. Even though Smith was being looked at by Louisiana-Monroe, a Division I program, a mixture of his recruitment starting late and a possible redshirt season made the high-scorer decide to head to the junior college route and take his talents to Pensacola.

The Atlanta native started 28 out of a possible 29 games last season but was forced out of position and did not score as heavily or consistently as he did in high school. Smith averaged 7.8 points per game but produced several double-digit scoring performances throughout the season which included a season-high 21 points in the second-to-last game of 2019-20 season.

The Pensacola State coaching staff was satisfied with the performances that Smith put in from his off-the-ball guard position. Following the last season, Smith had discussions with the coach about his future plan for the starting lineup and if he would be able to play point guard.

The Pirates’ coaching staff decided they wanted to keep Smith at shooting guard and that is when he decided to enter his name into the transfer portal.

How would Smith describe his one season as a Pirate?

“It was a learning year,” Smith said. “It was my first time ever playing off the ball and not being the ‘main’ man. I had to learn how to get my shots off the ball and how to be the second option. I knew that I was going to have to do that at the next level anyways, so I’m glad that it happened early.”

The competition for a spot in the starting rotation will be a tough one this year but Smith is not backing down and believes Howard College will help him further realize his potential at the game of basketball.

Smith has the ability to score and score big consistently much like his favorite player, five-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard. When watching film on Smith it is easy to see how he models his game after the versatile guard from the Portland Trail Blazers.

“The way he shoots off the screen-and-roll and just his handle and quickness and the way he can score off the ball is what I idolize and try to take and put into my own game,” Smith said. “I just need to get my hops right so that I can dunk like him too.”

Just because Smith has committed and the Hawks roster is taking its final shape does not mean that the work stops now. Even the pro’s try to improve their game each offseason and add something new to their game that they may not have ever attempted before.

Smith is very determined to keep improving every time his sneakers touch the hardwood. He has been working on reading defenses for the pick-and-roll game the most this offseason and his experience playing at the NJCAA Division I level should give him somewhat of an upper hand heading into the first practices of the year.

It is no secret, though, that Raines will put the best five players on the court and will always put his team in the best position to win.

However, it is also no secret that Smith fully expects to be one of those five players on the court during the opening tip for each and every game.

“My goals are to make the First Team All-Region, having multiple offers for next year to choose from, and leading the Hawks to the (Region title).”

With the addition of Smith, the Howard Hawks are adding yet another top-notch talent to their 2020-21 basketball roster. After a disappointing 16-14 finish last season, the Hawks will be looking forward to a bounce back year and a shot at WJCAC Conference title.

Shawn Moran is the sports writer at the Big Spring Herald. To contact him, e-mail sports@bigspringherald.com or call 432-263-7331.

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