Kenny Smith is a NYC basketball legend, a Tar Heel for life, a two-time NBA champion and also, a guest of ours in the SB Nation studio on Monday morning. He was here promoting his work with Coke Zero this NCAA Tournament season, but we got to talk to him about NCAA hoops, the NBA and even his jump-roping skills.
I was curious how Smith, normally an NBA analyst for TNT, prepares for three weeks of college basketball analysis. He says he's already so in tune with college hoops, it's just an extension of what he'd being doing anyway. I asked him how he learns about all of the teams.
"I don't think you learn them all," he said. "I've always been a college basketball fan. ... This is really the first time I'm getting paid to do something I would have done anyway. Watch the games, watch the brackets and analyze them. There have been maybe 15-20 teams I've had to homework on, but the rest of the teams, I get them, I know who they are."
So we broke down what he termed either sleepers of teams to watch in each region. Here's what he said:
- "UNLV went back under the radar ... That South region is loaded with very good teams, not a lot of great teams -- with the exception of Kentucky -- but a lot of very good teams."
- "UNC-Asheville will be more competitive than you think. UNC-Asheville has really good guards. The kid [Matt] Dickey, he's actually an Alabama native -- last year in tournament they won a game -- and their backcourt really shot the ball well from the outside and what does Syracuse play? A zone."
- "Everyone keeps talking about Vanderbilt and how good they are, but I like Harvard. I like what they're doing out there. I like what Tommy Amaker is doing out there. That matchup might be little bit tougher than people might think. I think Harvard is going to give them a harder time than people anticipated."
- "That Virginia-Florida matchup should be interesting. I think the winner of that game will win the next two rounds after that. Virginia has played Kentucky tough twice, Florida has really good inside play.
- "Well there's no one else but North Carolina in that region so there's no one else to talk about. [I ask Smith what school he went to again?] Aw you just caught that. There's nothing else to talk about, there are other good teams and you're going to have fun, Temple and Michigan and all these teams they're going to have fun but when it all comes down to it, Carolina is going to be coming out of the Midwest."
Smith said he hasn't decided on his Final Four yet. He wants to go back and check out a few teams to see "they are who they think they are." He has UNC and Kentucky as his two teams, still deciding on the final two. No matter, he's got his alma mater as winning the entire tournament.
As for the NBA, he still thinks it will probably be the Heat and the Thunder playing in the Finals, but he's not totally sold on Oklahoma City. He still wants to see how the tandem of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will fare again, and how they'll respond in the postseason, particularly after a loss and questions again surface on the distribution of shots. What might be the most interesting part of the interview (which will likely run tomorrow) is the legacy Smith left at his high school in Queens, Archbishop Molloy -- and it's not just his basketball legacy. His longtime and legendary coach Jack Curran began making each class of kids jump rope before and after practice after Smith first used jump roping as a way to get his quickness. It eventually helped him dunk and he still credits the jump-roping between commercials in his parent's home as a reason for why he developed his quickness, speed and jumping ability.
"I used to jump rope constantly," he said, "like a boxer."
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