Keith Smith’s Star Ignites for Oregon Basketball Next Year

With at least five key players gone from this year’s team, the Ducks will reload with a bunch of highly touted freshmen and transfers and one ‘Glue Guy’ who may emerge as a star. Keith Smith, the guy who scored the final two points of Oregon’s 2017 season will likely have a huge impact on next year.

Smith showed up last year after averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds for Ranier Beach High in Seattle. The 6′ 7″ wing had been on track to be one of the nation’s best players before slightly tearing his meniscus. He rehabbed and worked, and rehabbed and worked. And then worked some more. Despite his injury, ESPN ranked him as the nation’s 67th-highest rated player in the class of 2016.

The video shows a player capable of a ton of great things going forward. Great shooting motion, quick release, length on defense and to contest shots, quick feet and a willingness to pass to someone with a better shot available than his. His game feels like Dwyane Benjamin’s in a lot of ways. If his game continues to grow in that direction, as it could, that would be terrific for Oregon basketball fans.

By the time he arrived at Oregon, he was in good enough shape to be one of only two freshmen to find time in the rotation for one of the nation’s best teams.

Smith On Offense

From Video

Smith scores Oregon’s final bucket against North Carolina.

Offensively, Smith had his best game against Savannah State when he tallied 15 points and 8 rebounds. As conference play began, Coach Dana Altman shortened his rotation and Smith was often left just out of the group. Then, as the regular season wound down, he began getting minutes again.

First against Oregon State and then in each game after that. Smith hit two big free throws in the three-point win over Rhode Island in the second round of the Midwest Regional and played in the wins over both Michigan and Kansas. When Dillon Brooks fouled out in the National Semi-Final game, Smith scored twice and was part of the solution that got them within one score of the win.

One thing Smith hasn’t done is demonstrate his ability to consistently hit the three. As he stretches the range of his shot, he’ll become even more valuable to Payton Pritchard and other guards in Oregon’s weave offense designed to create a chance to shoot, drive or pass to the wing. Smith can thrive in this offense if he can stay healthy and improve his deep jumper.

Smith On Defense

His length and quickness at the top of Oregon’s Zone Press make him invaluable to Coach Dana Altman‘s defense. Those same things make him a good defender in the half court Match-up Zone where he’s asked to defend the drive on the perimeter, then quickly use his length to contend deep jump shots.

Gary Breedlove

Jordan Bell may return next year.

Smith’s biggest areas of improvement on defense appear to be his overall strength. He got bodied a few times when teams found him defending down low, and his rebounding can suffer when trying to fight for position. Both of these things are easily corrected as he spends more time in the gym and transitions from freshman to sophomore.

Fans often see young players, and it’s hard to remember the growth that often comes from a freshman to a sophomore year. Look for Smith to grow by leaps and bounds as next year begins.

Your Watercooler Notes … Recruiting

Jordan Bell says he still hasn’t made a decision whether to stay at Oregon or leave for the professional ranks. He tweeted today and shot down a report citing ‘sources.’

Oregon’s after four or five elite players to add to next year’s roster. They include graduate transfer Elijah Brown from New Mexico and 6′ 9″ 5-star freshman Simi Shittu who would have to reclassify to the 2017 class (as Dillon Brooks did a few years back).

Oregon’s also after 5-star center Brandon McCoy, 4-star 6′ 8″ forward Kenny Wooten who just de-committed from Arizona State. Wooten is very excited about Oregon and could commit along with McCoy very soon. Then there’s 4-star wing Jordan Tucker. Tucker had reportedly been committed to Indiana, or close to it, before the Hoosiers fired Coach Tom Crean. Tucker is also talking to Oregon, according to several websites.

The Ducks staff is also setting up a visit apparently with 4-star shooting guard Devante Doutrive from Southern California. Doutrive is the nation’s 100th-rated player overall by Scout.com.

I’ll take a guess and say Oregon brings in McCoy, Wooten and Elijah Brown to go along with incoming freshmen Troy Brown, VJ Bailey and Abu Kigab. If Elijah Brown doesn’t work out, it’s Doutrive’s scholarship. If Wooten doesn’t choose Oregon, it’s Tucker or Shittu. Oregon might also be able to bring in Shittu if Roman Sorkin chooses to transfer or play in Europe professionally.

Bob Rickert,
Portland, Oregon

Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

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Bob Rickert

Bob Rickert

A native Oregonian, Bob's spent 16 years covering Duck football and basketball for AOL Fanhouse, OregonLive and Rivals.com. He's also hosted a sports talk show on ESPN Radio and led marketing for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.