Freshman Focus: Justin Smith

  • 09/01/2017 2:17 pm in

“Freshman Focus” is an Inside the Hall series on each of Indiana’s incoming freshmen. Today: Justin Smith.

Justin Smith has been electrifying gyms since he walked through the doors of Adlai Stevenson High School as a 6-foot-5 freshman.

“You could see that kind of bounce, that explosion his freshman year,” said Patrick Ambrose, the head coach at Adlai Stevenson. “By his sophomore year, he was really dunking very well already. He was 6-foot-6 and had a tremendous vertical. By junior year he was just dunking with absolute ease. By senior year, almost everything was a dunk in close. If you threw any lobs to him his senior year, it was exciting and through the roof where he could catch it that high and dunk it as well. It’s incredible. He’s really got an exceptional vertical leap.”

When Clif Marshall, Director of Athletic Performance for IU basketball, tested the team’s maximum vertical leaps back in June, it should come as no surprise that Smith topped the charts.

But make no mistake, dunking is not the only weapon in Smith’s arsenal. Smith’s defensive capabilities, skill set and frame allowed him to play three positions in high school.

Throughout his time at Adlai Stevenson, Smith lit up the stat sheet and helped lead his team’s deep into the playoffs. As a senior, Smith posted 16 double-doubles, including a 32-point, 16-rebound performance on senior night.

“Anytime there was a bigger game, Justin would be willing to step up,” Ambrose said. “When his motor was really high, it was very, very hard to stop him.”

During his sophomore year, Smith, playing alongside point guard Jalen Brunson, was part of a team that won the Class 4A Illinois State Championship. Brunson, now a junior at Villanova, helped instill in Smith the qualities necessary to succeed at the next level.

“Even as a high school junior and senior, (Brunson) was more like an adult,” Ambrose said. “I think Justin really realized that you’ve got to bring it every day, you have to be a great leader, you have to take the hits, and even though you’re the superstar, you have to be that face of the program. Justin really learned those things from Jalen. There’s not a better person in the world to learn it from than Jalen Brunson.”

The only top 100 player in the class of 2017 to commit to Indiana, Smith passed up offers from Villanova, Stanford, Wisconsin, Xavier and Illinois (where both of his parents graduated). Ambrose said when Smith committed to the Hoosiers in Sept. 2016, his relationship with Tom Crean, the academics and the short distance from home were major factors.

After the coaching change, Ambrose said that Archie Miller and his staff did an excellent job at ‘re-recruiting’ Smith.

“Archie and (assistant coach) Bruiser Flint came in and did a great presentation on where he fits in and how he’d be utilized in the Archie Miller offense and defense,” Ambrose said. “I think there was no walking away for Justin. There was just hesitation, like ‘Who is this new guy? What’s he going to do and how is he going to use me?’ Archie really assured him that there are so many great things at Indiana that are still there. The business school, the university, the distance, the Big Ten. Us coaches, we’re going to treat you right. And the opportunity, also, for Justin, too. He recognizes this. He’s on the ground floor of something great happening there.”

Although Smith still needs to significantly improve his handles and passing abilities, Ambrose said Smith has been working for years on getting his body in ‘Big Ten shape.’

“(Smith) won’t be the normal freshman that’s kind of too skinny and too weak,” Ambrose said. “Not that he’ll be Caleb Swanigan and throwing people around, but he’s not going to come in as a weakling. He is a strong, strong high school graduate. I think he’s got a real bright future at Indiana.”

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  • iugradmark

    I am very excited to see what Justin can do. I think he is going to get a lot of minutes this year. He seems to be the kind of player that can get his own shot and as mentioned above, he came in with a good physique which is only going to get better with the training. I am glad he is getting a season to work alongside CH. Justin strikes me as thoughtful in his approach to the game. I won’t be surprised to see him play starter type minutes.

  • pcantidote

    On video at least Justin looks like a guy that can come in and have an impact from Day 1. I sure hope so. When are definitely in need of length and athleticism.

  • N71

    I hope he’s ready, he’ll probably be invaluable being first off the bench assuming Collin starts. He’ll be giving Collin, Juwan, and DeRon all relief so I bet he plays a ton. Good thing, he looks terrific. I’m thinking the only guy to play more will be Rob.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    I predict 6th man of the year for the B1G, averages 22 min, 8-9 points, 3-4 rebounds and is that dynamic microwave type player

  • VOXAC30

    I think he will be the 7th to McSwain he will average between 12 to 16 minutes a game maybe more. I am definitely excited about this young man.

  • TomJameson

    I hear a lot about who’s starting, and there are a lot of variances for sure. But I don’t really “hear” any especially heated arguments denouncing one opinion or another. One reason why (I think), is that there are some very good players on this team. Or at least enough to be able to play without losing a beat.

    I think Justin will play good minutes, but instead of starting he’ll be one of the first off the bench. Reason is who he is competing with for that position. Will he start before Juwan Morgan, De’Ron Davis, Freddie McSwain (a beast!), Clifton Moore, Colin Hartman, Tim Priller, and Zach McRoberts? Probably before Clifton, Tim, or Zach … but they aren’t going to start either.

    My guess for starters is De’Ron, Juwan, Colin, Josh, and RJ.

  • iugradmark

    Tom, I don’t disagree. I use the term “starter minutes”. Regardless of who starts, I think he will get a high amount of minutes as the season progresses. I also believe he may start some games primarily due to managing minutes for CH. I didn’t even play a doctor on TV but I suspect that after two major knee surgeries, some of these quick turnaround games that IU has to deal with may cause him to need to rest or play more limited minutes and I see Justin taking his minutes when that happens.

  • TomJameson

    I understand about “starter minutes”, and I agree with that for sure, but I think Justin will grow into those minutes. Frankly though, as much as I hear about how B1G ready he is, I’m thinking anything is possible with him. So, while I speculate on my end, I’m not saying anything else isn’t possible.

    You have a very good point about CH. Everything I’ve heard and read say’s he’ll be ready, but his knees really do worry me. I would think that Archie will be bringing Collin up to speed carefully, and the only way to do that is it limit his minutes a little at first.

    Gosh, can’t wait for the games to begin.

  • TomJameson

    Rob will become an Iron Man. He’s in great shape, and he WANTS to play the whole game.

  • Jtime

    There’s no denying that McSwain is a beast, but I’m still not convinced he’s a B10 level basketball player.

  • Larry Brown

    But he definitely could be a big 10 football player and I’ve got to wonder why no one ever steered him in that direction.

  • VOXAC30

    Very true Freddie has to make a big jump but I think he will be a pretty tough garbage man.

  • Jtime

    Agreed. TE or DE

  • E Foy McNaughton

    McFly = great athlete playing basketball

    JS = basketball player with great athletic gifts

    The difference matters

  • marcusgresham

    He was a football player. He chose to switch to basketball. I have a feeling he’ll get invited to an NFL camp after graduation.

  • Darrell Allen

    Colin Hartman will be one of the best players in the Big 10 this year!

  • Outoftheloop

    By January Justin will start, Collin will be 6th man

  • Outoftheloop

    TE definitely, the template is established!

  • TomJameson

    I don’t think so Loop, and that’s not an indictment on Justin either. It’s just that Collin is so meaningful to this team in leadership and BB IQ, he’s a redshirt senior, he’s a leader, and he is heads and shoulders above the Freshman Justin. That isn’t to say that Justin won’t play meaningful minutes, but he won’t take Collin’s starting position.

  • TomJameson

    Vox, I think Freddie will surprise some people. I expect a step up because of what Archie has said about his development. How big of a step will be determined, but it’s really his offense that’s in question. His defense is one of his best qualities. And, what is it that Archie is looking for … the defense.

  • VOXAC30

    It is a play on what Juwan Morgan said once before.

  • VOXAC30

    You know McSwain wasn’t 100%when he came to IU so we really haven’t seen how good he was or could be.


    Spot on, and it matters a whooole lot more than what many understand. Sort of another version of, “gee, you”re tall you should play bball, you”d be really good.”

  • TomJameson

    You are absolutely right. I’m basing my optimism on how he was coming on strong toward the end of the season, plus some of the comments from Archie indicate that Freddie has been working hard on his skills, as well as his body. Freddie is a beat! He’ll last a lot longer as a basketball player though. 🙂

  • Outoftheloop

    Tom, no one has a “starting position” right now. Justin is a special player. Of course Collin is a special player as well. I still stand on my prediction. We will see in January. Justin is a great leaper, he might jump center for IU!

  • TomJameson

    I know there’s no starters slated right now. Archie has said over-and-over that starters have to earn their positions. But I’m fairly certain that a 5th year senior with Collins skills, knowledge, and leadership will be starting. That’s why he stayed for another year.

    But that’s the fun of all this, everyone has their opinions and guesses, and I respect them all. My opinion is that Robert Johnson starts as well. Also DeRon, Juwan, and Josh. That is my opinion and my guesses.

    But you won’t have to wait until January though. First exhibition is Oct 28th, first non-exhibition is Nov 10, and Duke is Nov 29th.
    Man, that is right around the corner, but it’s going to seem like a long time. 🙂