Justin Smith knows it's his time to step up.
Learning the ropes in 2015, the Stevenson (Illinois) star is primed to take on a feature role for the Mac Irvin Fire.
While he impressed last year, Smith is going to improve on his numbers across the board in 2015. D1's Nate Bucsko caught up with the athletic swingman and Smith gave a terrific interview about his current status as a baller.
Nate Bucsko: How did this past winter go for you and Stevenson?
Justin Smith: This year we had a lot of new pieces coming in from different schools, jelling with different guys. After a rocky start, we got into a really good rhythm and made sectionals.
For myself, I really feel like I grew a lot more as a leader, being a junior now and having so much varsity experience.
NB: Speaking of that varsity experience, talk about how learning from guys like Jalen (Brunson) and Connor (Cashaw) helped prepare you to step up as a junior this year?
Smith: I think my experience from last year and playing with those guys really helped me to use examples of last year when times were tough and really having everyone stick together to create our own story. Those guys taught us what it meant to play as a team and to win.
NB: Run me through the biggest difference you’ve seen between AAU circuit ball and high school ball during the winter.
Smith: The difference between AAU and high school is definitely speed. AAU is basically like playing in college, which is very different from high school, where maybe one or two guys can play at the next level. There isn’t as much structure in AAU because of all the talent, and you kind of just roll the balls out and react on the fly.
NB: What skills are you focusing on ramping up training for in advance of the EYBL season and your upcoming senior year?
Smith: I would say continuing with the development of my ball-handling and one-on-one skills. Last year I kind of had to rely on guards to get me the ball, but I feel like now I’m at the point where I can create for teammates and myself. In my training, it really emphasizes ball-handling, whether it’s into shots or passing, and I do those drills every single day. I am pretty much doing some sort of drills with the ball in my hand at the start and end of all my workouts.
NB: What about the EYBL attracted you the most, compared to other circuits? How does the competition fuel your decision?
Smith: I would say the competition and who you’re playing against every single game. Playing against those guys, you have no choice but to elevate your game because they won’t give an inch.
Photo credit: D1 Circuit
NB: Besides returning to Peach Jam, what are some of your goals for this year with Mac Irvin and on a personal level for the EYBL season?
Smith: Goals for the team is getting back to Peach Jam and doing better than we did last year. Get out of pool play and possibly even win Peach Jam for sure. For myself, I just want to get better, and I am not focused specifically on one accomplishment.
NB: Is there a certain skill that you feel people underrate about you or that you want to make it a point to show?
Smith: I think I have an underrated passing ability, and I feel that I really see things that other people don’t. I think I can make the right decisions and make the right play.
NB: Favorite basketball moment?
Smith: Winning the state championship last year.
NB: Recruitment will be heating up for you very soon. What types of things will you be looking for in a program or school?
Smith: I really want to have a good relationship with the coach, be able to help the team right away, want the school to have a winning tradition. I want to win right away. I also want there to be a good group of guys to come in with.
NB: Thought about a potential major in school or job after it’s all over with hoops?
Smith: I will probably major in something with business or with medicine. I think I have always been interested in the human body.
NB: Is there a current pro you look up to the most?
Smith: Kevin Durant. I try to emulate his game.
NB: Who is your biggest inspiration on and off the court?
Smith: My dad. He’s the one who introduced me to the game and has been there every step.