Pay day for Smith On his way:Ex-Terps star Joe Smith has his memory jogged before making his pro debut with the Golden State Warriors.

November 04, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON -- Joe Smith was talking with his uncle late Thursday in his hotel room about his NBA debut with the Golden State Warriors. It was then that Willie Brown brought up his nephew's last official debut.

"He kept talking about the Georgetown game," Smith said yesterday.

It was the game that introduced Smith, then an unknown Maryland freshman, to the college basketball world. It was the game that launched the legend of Smith in College Park.

Smith thought last night's debut, here against the NBA champion Houston Rockets at the Summit, would be different from the afternoon he destroyed the Hoyas. Not because of who he'd be playing against, but because of whom he'd be playing with.

"I would love to have a game like that," said Smith. "But I'm not the focus on this team. I'm not the guy who's going to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game."

Smith wasn't even on the floor at the end of last night's 110-92 opening-night defeat. He finished with 14 points and three rebounds in 26 minutes but spent long stretches on the bench while Warriors coach Rick Adelman went with bigger players to counter Houston's size.

It was a long way from Maryland.

A great deal has happened to Smith since that November day at USAir Arena a little less than two years ago. He became famous, a first-team all-ACC player as a freshman, a consensus first-team All-American and national player of the year as a sophomore.

And, more recently, he became rich, signing a three-year contract worth $8.53 million as the first player taken in this year's NBA draft. Though Smith has yet to receive his first paycheck -- "It's coming on the 15th," he said -- the Warriors have already staring seeing a return on their investment.

From the moment he showed up for training camp, Smith has been the same type of player he was in his two years at Maryland. Just as he did as a Terrapin, Smith has fit into an established team by working hard and saying little.

"I've always had the confidence -- ever since my first game at Maryland," said Smith, who is still wearing the jersey number -- 32 -- that will likely be raised to the rafters at Cole Field House sometime this season.

"If I didn't think I could play at this level, I would have stayed at Maryland and worked on my game for another year."

There have been a number of adjustments, from playing power forward rather than center to being, at age 20, the youngest Warriors player by more than two years and the NBA's second youngest behind Kevin Garnett, who was picked fifth by the Minnesota Timberwolves right out of high school.

A quick study, Smith has heeded the advice of Adelman after trying to show he could play inside with such as Karl Malone and Shawn Kemp.

"He told me, 'Don't try to bang bodies with them,' " said Smith, who wound up averaging 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in a little over 28 minutes a game during the preseason. "He told me to use my quickness."

Said Adelman, who was also making his Warriors debut last night: "He's going to have to learn about playing against certain people, but he'll do it.

"He's just a tremendous young man. He's fit in well because he doesn't demand a lot of things from a basketball sense. He can do so many things. You see nothing but improvement."

There are some who might think that Smith is under less pressure and scrutiny than last year's top pick, Glenn Robinson, because his salary is only a fraction of the reported $68 million the Milwaukee Bucks paid the former Purdue star.

But Smith knows that he will receive plenty of attention.

"It's still tough," said Smith. "Being the No. 1 pick [in the draft] puts a lot of pressure on me. The fans might expect me to be the do-everything guy, but we have a lot of talent. I feel lucky to have landed on this team. They won 50-plus games two years ago. We can do it again."

Judging by the comments of his new teammates, the Warriors feel lucky to have landed Smith. They appreciate his nose-to-the-backboard approach and the fact that he doesn't appear to get flustered.

"I love his attitude, first and foremost," said newly acquired guard B. J. Armstrong, who has compared Smith with former Chicago Bulls teammate Horace Grant. "He plays through fouls, and very few young players do that. He's a level-headed kid."

There are reminders that he is still a kid. The biggest one, of course, is that his mother, Letha, will share a house with her son for at least his rookie season. Smith said he hasn't heard much about having his mother as a housemate.

"The only thing the guys ask me," said Smith, "is when can they come over for dinner?"

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