CSU Sophomore Smith Won't Back Down From a Challenge

By Rich KurtzmanCreated: 02.28.2012 - 4:50 am mtMile High Hoops

Dwight Smith epitomizes Colorado State basketball.

On a team full of scrappy, smallish overachievers, Smith is the shining example of what can happen when one is determined, disciplined and driven towards a goal.

The sophomore guard is steadily improving, playing the best basketball of his college career this season and while he's a bench player, he's also incredibly important to the team.

Dwight is the glue guy, he holds the team together when he exemplifies a high-energy style of play—the very style that suits the short CSU team best.

See a loose ball bouncing down court? There's Dwight, diving, sacrificing his body for the ball. Need a rebound? There's Smith, bouncing like a superball high into the night to grab boards. Have to have a stop? Dwight will give it all he's got, frustrating and forcing opponents to expend unnecessary energy.

Listed at 6-foot-4—which actually makes him one of the taller players on the Rams' roster—Smith is often times asked to guard much bigger players. It's an unenviable task, yet one the youngster takes on with pride.

“Honestly, I love the challenge,” Smith said of playing taller opponents. “I can't back down from that. I'm supposed to be the tough guy and it's not just that I'm tough, I'm never the guy to back down. It's not going to happen. No matter how big you are, no matter the situation, I'm not gonna back down.

“I don't care if it's Duke, or Kansas last year, I'm just going to play. And as long as I get that in my mind and try to have my teammates feed off of me, and they see this, they're going to feed off it.

“I can't back down, I have to step up and do what the coaches ask me to do.”

Don't let that giant grin fool you, Dwight is a tough basketball player, no matter how cheerful and charming he is off the court.

Maybe that tough guy attitude stems from his upbringing on the north side in Omaha, Nebraska, what Smith called, “Not necessarily the best part of Omaha.”

“We played sports when we were little,” Dwight said speaking of himself and big brother Greg who also plays for CSU. “We played soccer and once we started getting more to middle school age we got a lot more into basketball, and that started taking over. My dad was a big part of that, he just loved basketball. He played in college. That was the main thing he wanted us to do was get out of that negativity of the neighborhood. There was a lot of drugs, a lot of bad stuff and he wanted to keep us busy because a lot of our friends still to this day are not making it out of that situation.”

Basketball served the Smith brothers as a distraction from all the negativity surrounding them originally, and it ended up being a means of escaping that situation while earning a full-ride college education at Colorado State.

But before he could come to CSU, Smith was busy making it to state two years in a row for track, playing wide receiver for the football team and, most importantly, leading his Ralston High School to a Nebraska State Championship in basketball.

“Those situations, those are ones you think about to this day,” Smith reminisced of his high school days only two years ago. “Coach Heard, the stuff he did, the preparation and the feeling after you got done playing, you felt like you could play for days and days. It kind of reminded me of the CU game. You didn't get tired, you had an edge, you knew you were going to win. And you were like, 'I have to win this one for the community,' which was Ralston at the time, and Colorado State now.

“We had played the team three times at the time and we had handed them their only losses on the year and it was like, 'OK, there's no way you guys can beat us,'” Dwight said of the Nebraska state championship game. “Our coach was so confident in us and for that community at the time being a football school and switching over [to basketball], it was such a great thing.

“Those were just tremendous times. I just miss those times and going back home brings back all those memories.”

Included in those meaningful memories were playing with current teammates and Nebraska natives Jesse Carr and Wes Eikmeier with the Nebraska AAU Bison team, and watching the two go head to head in high school.

“It was a showcase out in Grand Island,” Smith explained. “The showtime games that night were Jesse's team and Wes' team, and us against St. Cecelia. Those two went at it. Jesse had like 18 at half, and Wes' team ended up winning and I think Wes had something like 30. And they played right before us.

“That was probably my best experience watching them because just seeing them go at each other like they did was just, amazing to me. I didn't really know them at the time and it was right after Jesse had 68 (points) and Wes was getting all his clout from all the scoring he was doing.

“I still mess with Jesse because he was wearing a pair of Iversons I hadn't ever seen, I went out and bought those the next year because he was wearing them.”

“Going on Bison trips with them was crazy, it was just so funny,” Smith said with a smile. “Just watching them was so funny. They'd walk around and wear each others' shirt. When Wes was going to go to Iowa State, they switched shirts, they were always messing with us. Jesse, well my mom loves Jesse (laughs).

“Even recently she said, 'Tell Jesse I said hi. He was always a fool during Bison trips.'”

No doubt those early years of bonding between the four Nebraska players has impacted and improved Colorado State's chemistry now. These guys grew up as high school rivals, then played together on the same team, connected, and have carried those friendships on until this day.

Leaning on one another, Rams relying on their close-knit bonds, has pushed this 2011-12 team into the NCAA Tournament discussion and they all know Dwight Smith can always be counted on.

When CSU MVP Pierce Hornung couldn't play six games due to a concussion earlier this year, Dwight stepped in and stepped up his game, performing perilously, impacting the contests in any way possible. During that stretch, Smith averaged 9.0 points and 4.8 rebounds, including a career-best performance of 17 points and four boards against Northern Iowa.

But playing that physically has it's drawbacks too, and Smith suffered a broken nose against Nebraska-Omaha, missed two games and had to wear a protective mask for five games after that. The mask earned him the nickname “Zorro,” and while it added some style, Smith said, “The mask was just a struggle. It made me try and focus more, which threw me off attack mode and made me less productive.”

Now that the mask is gone, Dwight's back to his element, and CSU certainly needs him to be playing with that reckless abandon—that exciting energy—if they want to finish the season strong and possibly make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight seasons.

Dwight Smith's a good guy that adds to Colorado State's feel-good story, and his teammates, coaches and anyone associated with CSU are all lucky to have him on the team because he's fun to watch and easy to root for.

Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist, actively seeking a career in journalism. Follow Rich on twitter or give his journalism page a like on facebook.