Jan. 21, 2005
Charleston, SC - Travis Smith sprinted down the long jump runway, planted his spiked left shoe on the wooden take-off board and prepared to leap as far as he could.
But as his spikes hit the board, his foot slipped. Before he ever left the ground, Smith had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and altered the direction of his basketball career.
"Everything happens for a reason," Smith said. "I knew something good would come out of it."
That something began to reveal itself last Monday night, when The Citadel's freshman guard put on one of the great shooting displays in the history of Bulldogs basketball. With his team trailing Wofford by 21 points in the first half, Smith came off the bench to sink seven 3-pointers and score 25 points in the second half, lifting the Bulldogs to a 76-74 victory.
"The finest shooting performance I've ever seen," Citadel coach Pat Dennis said. "I'm not sure he can ever top that game."
Said Smith: "You work on your game in practice and you feel like you can do it in a game. But when you are on and you make all those shots, I can't even describe what it feels like."
And it might not ever have happened if Smith's foot hadn't slipped that day.
Before the injury, the muscular Smith, who stands 6-1 and weighs 195 pounds, was a high school scorer of growing reputation in Columbus, Ga. He was an all-region player as a junior at Shaw High School and was drawing interest from schools such as Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Florida State, Miami, Tennessee and Southern Mississippi.
Smith was making plans to hit the summer camp circuit, a major recruiting showcase for high school players between their junior and senior years.
"A lot of schools were calling my school, my house, asking me where they could see me over the summer," Smith said.
Then came that fateful long jump, followed by reconstructive knee surgery two days later. There would be no summer camps and, after Smith transferred from Shaw to a smaller Catholic school for his senior year, no scholarship offers from those big-time schools.
"It was the most important summer of my life as far as recruiting goes," Smith said. "And I felt like I messed everything up."
Said Dennis: "He was getting a lot of big looks as a junior. But after he got hurt and switched schools, he got lost in the cracks. But we got on him and stayed with him through everything and were able to get him."
Smith averaged 28.6 points and seven rebounds at Pacelli High School as a senior, enough to draw an offer from Western Carolina. But his father, Edward, insisted that Smith take his visit to The Citadel.
"I was skeptical about the military aspect," he said. "But I really liked the players and the coaches. My dad told me it's a school with major benefits when you graduate, so I looked at my career after school and not just for basketball."
Smith showed flashes of what he is capable of early, scoring in double figures in three of his first five games at The Citadel. Monday's seven 3-pointers in a game tied for third in Citadel history, putting him in company with great Bulldog shooters such as Travis Cantrell and Noy Castillo.
"Travis is fairly pure, maybe not quite as pure as Travis and Noy," Dennis said. "But he can really get his shot off with people on him. Travis and Noy needed more screens and room to get their shot off, but this kid doesn't need but an inch or two."
Of course, Dennis doesn't expect his freshman to make seven 3-pointers every night, and in fact is trying to temper expectations brought on by the big night. Smith is part of a four-man rotation at guard along with juniors Kevin Hammack and Dante Terry and sophomore Donny McLendon, and dividing up minutes among those four can be difficult.
"We like Travis coming off the bench, because he gives you a great spark," Dennis said. "But it's hard to juggle four guards at one time. It's a good problem to have, though."
Freshman guard Travis Smith has scored double-digits in four of the Bulldogs' 15 games.