With the football team off, we’ll shift to basketball.
Washington continued the revamping of its coaching staff when it hired Lamont Smith just before the team left for Europe. Smith previously worked with Lorenzo Romar as a grad assistant at Saint Louis from 1999-2001.
Smith went from Saint Louis to Saint Mary’s, where Randy Bennett, also a former Romar assistant, was head coach. He then journeyed to Santa Clara and finally Arizona State before being hired by the Huskies Aug. 23.
Washington assistant Raphael Chillious left for Villanova and longtime assistant Paul Fortier was shifted to director of player personnel and player development. That led to the Huskies hiring former Western Washington head coach Brad Jackson and Smith to fill those spots.
Smith played for San Diego, where he was known as a tough defensive player. We caught up with him earlier this week while he was in Phoenix on the recruiting trail. He had some interesting thoughts on player and coach movement, and how to close a big-time recruit for Washington when schools like Kentucky, UCLA and Duke are also chasing the same recruit.
(When did you first meet coach Romar?) You know what, I knew I wanted to coach college basketball, and a guy I really respect that I worked with at Saint Mary’s is Randy Bennett, and (I) played for him at San Diego. We sat down one time, and he said, ‘Hey, if that’s something you want to do, after the ball game, really make it a note to go over to the coaches and say hello either before or after that game and kind of give them a chance to get to know you outside of just being a player.’ He said, ‘I know it’s short and brief, but sometimes those impressions can go a long way.’ I tried do that with the majority of coaches, especially the coaches in our league, the WCC.
(What was your role at Saint Louis?) My first year, I did a lot of the graduate position duties, which included a little bit of everything. My second year, I did more of the video. But, I was really blessed because in both of those years, there were coaching changes on our staff, the third assistant, at that time, we had big gaps in when they left and when they hired a guy. I really tried to take it upon myself to do everything I could to fulfill that gap until (Romar) hired someone. So, I did a little bit of everything. My titles were graduate assistant and video coordinator, but, I was kind of just all over the place.
(What did you think of coach Romar once you were working directly under him?) I just thought he was a guy who had great character and integrity. I thought he was a funny guy. I thought he was a guy that players really gravitated toward. Just very easy to talk to and be around.
(Did you get comfortable with his long stories?) Yeah. He had some great stories and obviously working camp, you always hear a lot of those stories. It was neat. Back then, he could still really play. We would play ball once or twice a week. He would do a lot of drills and stuff, and dunk for the camp, so everybody thought that was really cool that the head coach for Saint Louis could still dunk and still play.
(Did anyone make him go to his right?) No one ever made him go to his right, because I don’t think we could ever stop him from going left (laughs).
(What was your focus on staff at Saint Mary’s?) I came over from Saint Louis, and I did a lot of the general stuff you do in regards to being an assistant. Recruiting, player development, scouting, were my major emphasis there.
(Time at Saint Mary’s) We had a nice run. Took us a couple two, three years to build it up. I think in year four or five, we won 25 and went to the tournament and from there on, we kind of just took off.
(Santa Clara then ASU? ) I spent about eight months at Santa Clara, then went over to Arizona State.
(You were there when James Harden was there?) I was there Harden’s last year. I coached Derek Glasser for two years. Jeff Pendergraph was there for a year. Eric Boateng was there for two years.
(So, you were in Seattle for the overtime game?) Right. We had an epic game up here, it was an overtime game. James fouled out in overtime, he had the steal to tie the game, he missed a shot and pretty much sensed the game was over, I forget who was bringing it up (Justin Dentmon), he ripped him, scored it in to tie. The game goes to overtime, then (Washington) got us in overtime.
(What is your role for Washington?) I’m going to recruit. I’m going to continue to do player development. Lorenzo is running the same defense that he had in place at Saint Louis. I’m very familiar with that, I also did that for several years at Saint Mary’s. I think I’ll hit the ground running with the defense, in terms of being able to teach it and feel comfortable with it. We haven’t really sat down and specifically said, you’re going to be developing the post men, you’re going to be developing the guards. I’m not sure yet just because the timing of everything. Literally they got back from Europe, we were on the road that day. In between that time, there hasn’t been a lot of down time.
(You were known as a defensive player during college, right?) I was a good defensive player in college. Really enjoy teaching defense. We did the bulk of that stuff, as well, as assistants at Arizona State.
(What is your recruiting philosophy?) Good person. High character. Skill set. Good student. I think if you have those you have the intangibles to be pretty good.
(With so much movement by assistant coaches, why should a recruit take a coach’s word anymore about how something is going to be at the university they are trying to get them to go to?) I just think it’s reciprocal. If you look at what’s going on in college basketball now, there’s over 450 transfers, it could be more, this year alone. I think we’re living in a society where things are changing. If you look at it in the grand scheme of things, these kids today see LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, they see their idols, so to say, upset with situations and wanting out. Then you see different things that happen among kids in high schools. They transfer high schools, play on different AAU teams, then they get to college and they want to transfer. Then you see the realignment of conference. So, on the grand scheme of things, everybody’s moving and shaking. I think it’s just become a societal deal where people don’t stay put in one place for too long.
To answer your questions, I think you have to build upon a relationship. I think once you build upon a relationship, there’s a level of trust. And, will I say, every time you go in the living room of a kid and you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be there,’ and something happens, and you (aren’t), then are you breaking that trust? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it was a better situation. Maybe you had to do it. There’s all sorts of different variables. I think it’s the way things are now. But, I think really the key deal is gaining trust from kids and making them believe that you are a man of your word and you will hold true to what you tell them.
I think, again, it’s a two-way street. I think so much in recruiting, people want to think it’s a one-way street. It’s really a two-way street, because, if I’m recruiting you and if you don’t feel the same way I feel, but then I can convince you to come, at some point adversity is going to set in and if you don’t really feel that way and believe that way, then you’re going to do what? You’re going to leave. So, it’s really a two-way street. We talk to kids about that all the time in recruiting: This has got to be right for both parties to really work.
(How much attention do you pay to recruiting ranking versus what your eyes and ears tell you?) I solely go on what my eyes and ears tell me. There’s a rare scenario when you maybe haven’t seen a kid as much as someone else, there’s a handful of guys that I really trust, that I think do a great job evaluating. They can be out there in times we can’t be out, so they can see a kid a little bit more. But, for the most part, I think you have to believe in your staff and yourself and what you see and what you hear.
(Washington kind of stumbled on C.J. Wilcox. How do you find those guys?) I think you just continue to beat the pavement. Obviously, relationships help and when you have different relationships in different parts of the country, again, if you’re not there to see a guy, you’ve got an old-time coach who you really respect, you know does a good job, he says, hey, this kid can play, you kind of just follow-up. With the amount of exposure that is going on in college basketball and high school basketball, there’s very little secrets anymore. There’s guys who maybe come to your university, like a Derek Glasser, who developed over time and over time they become a very good player, I think that happens. But I think there’s very little secrets. Especially now with social media.
(How do you close high-end guys when you’re at Washington but up against Kentucky, UCLA, Duke and schools like that?) I think that the proof is in the pudding. If you did the stats over the last eight or nine years, I would say Washington is among tops in the country as far as producing pros. I think some things you can also sell are, you have a chance to be arguably one of the better players to step through the doors of Washington. And, are you going to be able to do that at North Carolina and Duke? Then, what that tells them is now that your brand that you are creating becomes more marketable, more valuable. Now you start talking dollars and sense to these kids and that’s kind of what they want to hear. Some say blaze your own trail. No disrespect to any of the guys that have played here at Washington, because how many guys are going to come through the door and be better than Brandon Roy? Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson, Quincy Pondexter, just to name a few. Those guys are terrific players.