CHICAGO – He is a prospect and a legacy and a former Bullets ball boy and a son. Absolutely a son. That is especially true these days.
Nolan Smith is heading from Duke to the NBA, possibly as a first-round pick and definitely with his father’s memory close in ways the tattoo of Derek Smith on Nolan’s right arm does not do justice. The elder Smith was a national champion at Louisville in 1980 and a nine-year pro with the Warriors, Clippers, Kings, 76ers and Celtics. Later he was an assistant coach with the Bullets, a job he held at the time a massive heart attack took his life at age 34 in 1996.
And now Nolan is about a month away from the June 23 draft that will allow him to follow Derek into the NBA.
“Getting to that day will be an emotional day,” Nolan said at the pre-draft camp here. “It will feel like I did something that I started because of him.”
Finishing his Duke career advanced the feelings. Being here and going through drills in front of a crowd of executives and scouts, some of whom knew his father, brought the emotions even closer. Now, he will travel the country as the final step before the draft, and the thoughts will likely grow more prominent still.
His will be no ordinary draft night. Smith would have been one of the interesting names to track anyway – a name player from a name program, with his stock rising after a senior season largely spent moving from shooting guard to the point to replace an injured Kyrie Irving. The personal impact of the instant, though, will make it extraordinary.
“It’s going to be an incredible moment to spend with my family,” Nolan said. “Just to feel like I’ve reached the ultimate level and to definitely reflect back on everything that I’ve been through. My dad isn’t here to witness it. But I know that he’s looking down on me and it’s going to be a great moment.”