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Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Oak Hill's Smith on Cape Cod, Rondo, new rules

By Brendan Hall

SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. -- Last week, Boston area youth basketball got a special treat when legendary St. Anthony (N.J.) head coach Bob Hurley helped run a four-day camp on the Roxbury Latin School campus in West Roxbury. This past Sunday, youths on the Cape got a treat of their own when Oak Hill Academy (Va.) coach Steve Smith and his staff participated in a youth camp put on by Impact Performance Training at Dennis-Yarmouth High School.

Out of the remote Oak Hill campus in Mouth of Wilson, Va., Smith has one of the most impressive resumes of any high school coach in history, having coached nearly two-dozen players that went on to the NBA, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Jackson, Josh Smith and Michael Beasley. He's a four-time USA Today National Coach of the Year (including this year), has eight mythical national titles under his belt, and has coached 28 McDonald's All-Americans.

With his toes in the sand of the beaches in Harwich, Smith spoke with ESPNBoston.com on a number of topics before arriving to speak with the campers.

What brings him to Cape Cod, and what he likes about the area: "We have a skills camp that we did here last year, it went well so we're doing it again this year. One of our assistant coaches is familiar with some of the guys here from the Cape, we're doing it with them. That's kinda how it started last year. We did a two-day deal up in Portland, Maine the last two days, and we drove down here yesterday.

"There could be a lot worse places to have a camp (laughs), that's part of it too. I enjoy the New England area. I've been to Boston a few times, seen a couple Celtics and Red Sox games. I've never been to Maine until this year, Cape Cod until last year. It's just kinda laid back here, it's relaxed. It's good to get away. It's quiet here. You go to places like Myrtle Beach and it's more touristy, but this is serene and a lot better -- especially for an older guy like me. Our younger guys might like the nightlife, i just like to relax and have some seafood."

Steve Smith
Legendary Oak Hill Academy (Va.) coach Steve Smith spoke at a basketball clinic on Cape Cod this past weekend.
On the appeal of returning to Massachusetts year after year (the Warriors play in the Hoophall Classic in Springfield every January): "The Hall of Fame is the main thing. We've got a pretty good team each year, usually half is turnover from last year and the others are transfers, but most of them have never been to the Hall of Fame. We get a really good game every year too, usually against one of the top teams in the country, so we take kids to the Hall of Fame to let them see that, then we face a high-level team, usually a matchup between two of the top 5-10 teams.

"Next year we've got Simeon [Chicago] and Jabari Parker, who's one of the top players in the country. Our guys will be excited to play them, get a tour of the Hall of Fame, and see the other games up here, You've got four games against all nationally-ranked teams [on the final day], these kids now, they all know each other, between social networks and watching each other play in AAU tournaments."

On Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, a 2004 graduate, and how he thinks Rondo has evolved in his pro career: "I follow him quite a bit, obviously I'm close to Rajon. He came to Oak Hill from Lousiville Eastern High School in Kentucky, where he was not that well-known except basically in the state of Kentucky. When he got to Oak Hill played with Josh Smith, they developed a friendship, it was one of the best teams I've ever had. Rajon went from a guy not even ranked in the top 10, to one of the best point guards in the country his senior year, an undefeated season, and a McDonald's All-American.

"All the pro scouts were coming to see Josh Smith because he was a top high school prospect and had made known he wasn't planning on going to college, so they'd come to a lot of our practices and games. But a lot would come up to me and say 'Hey, your best pro prospect is Rondo, not Josh'. Josh at that time was a freakish athletic player more than anyone else country, while Rajon ended up signing late in the spring with Kentucky. In two years, I knew he'd be a great player, and I've had six or seven point guards in the NBA from Oak Hill, but most people thought I was crazy. But I didn't think he'd be that good that early, I thought it would take a little more time.

"He's a unique player. He's so long, with those long arms, and then on the offensive end he's different than other point guards. There's something different about him, the way he feels for the game. Most passes he makes, most guys dont want to attempt. He has a knack for making the right play. The other knock on Rajon is that he can't shoot the ball, but he can score when he needs to. He's a smart player, he knows when to take a shot and when not to. I watched a game where he had 40-something points in the playoffs, he can step up.

"One night we were playing in Barcelona, he stepped up for that. Josh Smith had three fouls in the first six minutes, and this is one of the best teams in Spain, with Sergio Rodriguez. Rondo comes over to the bench and sayd, 'I need to score'. For me that night, he had 55 points. He made shots from the perimeter, but he made most of his shots going to the basket, floaters, transiton points. The next night he had 17 in the gold medal game. He knows how to pick spots and when when not to, he knows how to get other guys shots. He's been playing the last few years with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, so he's got a good feel."

Could Rondo be a a great shooter? "He's worked at it. At Oak Hill he changed his shot, at Kentucky he changed it again, and now in the NBA he's changed again. I think he shoots better than people think. Some nights you look at him and go 'Whoa'. He's developed into a better shooter. He's never gonna take bad shots, he's gonna take high quality shots, he gets to the rim and makes shots that way as well. I've seen nights where he's hit three or four 3-pointers in a game, and NBA range is much longer than college, so I know how much time he's put in. He knows the way people are talking bout him, but he works at it all the time."

Thoughts on new the NCAA rule allowing unlimited texting and phone calls from college coaches: "At Oak Hill it's a little better because they're sheltered. We don't have much cell phone service on campus, so it's hard to reach them that way. But the coaches are gonna do that, going nonstop, because they don't want to lose a player. I tell my guys, we'll make rules. You want to call or text, fine. I like to know who they're being recruited by, because coaches tell you all sorts of things.

"When they're with me, we're a boarding school with no parents so I'm responsible for them. I don't try constrict, but I leave it up to the parents and player to make the final decision. I'll give some feedback. I've been around 30 years so I know most of the guys. I can find out who they're recruiting, who they've got in the program at the position...When they're being recruited they're the greatest thing since bread, but obviously we know better. They're never recruiting one point guard, its seven or eight, they pick who they want and get their top guy. I can help in the process and give the advice they need."

On if they would consider scheduling a New England prep school team: "We schedule mainly high school teams, since we don't have a prep team at our school. It's a benefit to us down in our area to have Hargrave, Fork Union, all the miltary school. New England's got the prep league, mainly post-graudates, I know Maine Central doesn't have a team anymore and it's sad to see them get away from that. But New England has some prevalent prep school teams.

"I don't want to put my players at a disadvantage, when you've got high school kids going up against older players. We scrimage Hargrave, they're better than any high school team in Virginia. We all scrimmage each other, and that's some of our best experience all season."

Would they consider scheduling an MIAA team? "Yeah definitely, we've tallked about it. We play at the Hall of Fame, they want a good game, they've got great teams from all over country and they want to match us all up, and it hasn't been a Massachusetts team. There's a lot of high quality games, matching a top player on one team against a top player from another team. That's kinda how the schedule's been at the Hall of Fame."