2014 Drew League – Top Performer Profile: Craig “Rhino” Smith

By: Otha Nevels

Since the inception of Ice Cube’s cult trilogy “Friday,” people all over the world know about Craig. We were all introduced to an array of special characters that have remained in our hearts:  D-BO, Phylicia, Smokey, and Day-Day. Let’s be real, it is not too often you come across a real person with one of those names. Meet CraigSmith affectionately known as “Rhino” at the Drew League. “Rhino” has lead his COA team to the finals, the Drew League championship game.

At 6’8,” 260 pounds, Smith is a rare player with speed, agility and a nice touch mid-range game. He’s been a household name here in the Southland since his prep days at Fairfax High School. “The Fairfax days were good from my senior year down to sophomore [year],” said Smith. Smith was the centerpiece of the Fairfax basketball team during those years. Respected and revered throughout the city, Smith said the competition of Los Angeles basketball catapulted his game whether it was, “Westchester, Crenshaw and Dorsey. It was so much talent that we had to play hard every game, every practice to compete.”

Smith boasted pretty impressive numbers as a senior averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds while leading Fairfax to the CIF City Semifinals. Smith was able to garner a McDonald’s All-American snub. That same year David Harrison, and Rick Rickett made it on the cut and Smith did not, which only added fuel to the fire. “Not getting picked [to be a McDonald’s All-American] definitely drove me more to prove to people that I was an elite player. That I was better or just as talented as some of those McDonald’s players.”

As a high school senior, Smith’s game was being compared to the likes of Charles Barkley. During his recruiting process then head coach at Boston College, Al Skinner, offered high praise of the big man. “Craig can post up, but he can also step away from the basket and make plays. He’s very versatile for his size. He’s not as good as Charles Barkley, but he’s a Charles Barkley-type of player,” said Skinner.

After Fairfax, Smith went to Worcester Prep in Massachusetts and teamed with Jarrett Jack to lead them to a 27-4 record and a New England Prep Schools Final. Smith credits his time in Massachusetts as a learning experience, “That was one of the big differences that helped me change and mature. Taught me how to manage myself, get ready for school and become a young adult,” said Smith. The talent he would face would help his game as well including professional players:  Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva and Rashad McCants. Because of the high-caliber competition, “I developed very nicely. It was funny because Coach Calhoun had seen me playing pick-up and had asked me if I wanted to go to UConn but I was already headed to [Boston College],” Smith added.

Smith would eventually play for Coach Skinner at Boston College, where he teamed up with Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall. Smith was still the center piece.”They brought a lot of talent to BC.They helped me as we turned BC in to a National powerhouse. Dudley with his smarts and just know-how of the game, he was “Mr. Everything,” and Sean Marshall was an athletic wing with lock down defense and the ability to make shots.” Smith would go on to wreak havoc in the Big East. He would finish as Boston College’s all-time leading rebounder and second leading scorer.

I shared with Smith that he was only second to Troy Bell and his face lit up as he began to tell me about Bell. Smith: “That dude was the king of the And1 threes.” Me: “More than Jamal Crawford? Smith: “More than Jamal!”

Smith earned All-American and All-Big East honors. Its worth noting, Smith played in the “old” Big East. Before all the realignment, “It was something special to be apart of. Going up to Syracuse to play Melo in the Carrier Dome or going to Connecticut to play Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. Those were special games, and we knew every night it was going to be a battle,” Smith reminisced.

What you notice about Smith instantly is his bubbly personality. Smith is the epitome of Cali cool. He’s funny and witty off the court but has a killer instinct on the floor. Those instincts lead him to the league after being drafted by Minnesota in 2006. In his first year, he was able to learn under one of the best to ever play his position, Kevin Garnett.  “He’s intense. He brings the best out of your game. I would pick his brain every time, and I would add some things to my game.”

Smith’s notetaking showed as he  took home All-Rookie 2nd team honors that year. After Minnesota, Smith found himself on the move going to Portland, and then to the Los Angeles. Smith’s last league game was in 2012.

His talent is league worthy and it’s no mistakes about it. “It’s certain things that happened that are unfortunate. It’s politics to the game and its money situations.” The NBA is a business and when looking to cut costs, they’ll go with the younger cheaper player as opposed to spending more for the proven vet. I’ve already been in the [league] to see what its like. This time I’m looking for a situation that I can help, and they can help me.”

To the league that does want him, the Drew, Smith has been playing like “The best power forward in Southern California.”  He’s been named player of the week twice with a 21 point, 8 rebounds and 6 assists game in week 6 and a 27 point, 8 rebound game in week 8 all while leading COA to the Finals.

COA is coached by Teddy Fletcher who’s right around the same age as Smith. “It’s cool because were one the same wave length. It’s easier to relate. We share the same ideas, don’t really try to step on anybody’s toes. Constructive criticism does come into play though.” After a buzzer beating loss week 1 to the Bulldogs, COA made plenty of strides throughout the season to ensure that did not happen again. “We learned from that week 1 loss and we know how talented we are. We knew we would be a threat and will continue to be a threat. This is the best team I’ve been on thus far. I don’t feel like I have to do so much because these guys got my back,” said Smith confidently. Much of that threat comes from inside in the form of Jerome Jordan. Jordan and Smith combine for one of the better 4-5 combinations in the league. Smith has affectionately dubbed Jordan “Al Paqua” because, “He rebounds; he runs the floor; he has great court vision and plus he’s a professional. He’s been in the big time.”

Smith, being the ultimate team player, also made sure to make mention of key contributions like Julian Wright. “Julian adds versatility [and] has the best handle and the most athleticism,” said Smith.

With that, COA is a great group of guys that have chemistry on and off the court. “You know that guy is going to fight for you every chance they get at the drop of a hat,” Smith said. COA will have to show that if they want to see a COA banner hanging in the gym as the 2014 Drew League Champions yet like everything else they’ve endured this season, they’ll rely on each other to get it done. “It would mean a lot. Every year that’s what the goal is, but this year it would be really special to me. Whenever I have the opportunity to win something I want to win it. Besides, we’d have hella bragging rights.”

Before I let him go I just had to ask what its like being named Craig. “It’s awesome! Big ups to Cube for doing that,” Craig…

Otha Nevels is a recent Howard University graduate, with a degree in Broadcast journalism. He is currently a freelance writer with aspirations to be an esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. This is his first summer with the Drew. Previously Otha interned with the Washington Redskins, WHUR Radio, BET network, USA Basketball Nike Global challenge, ESPN National High School Invitational and the Howard University Sports Network.