Basketball player

Former UNC basketball player KJ Smith charts new course in sports media


When Walker Kessler entered the transfer portal on March 22, angry comments ranging from frustration to utter vitriol were posted on the UNC first-year basketball center’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.

And KJ Smith, one of Kessler’s closest friends on the 2020-21 Tar Heels roster, couldn’t stand it.

“I knew Walker had no bad intentions of transferring,” Smith said. “He was really hurt to leave the Carolina family, and it was a difficult decision for him. People thought he was saying FU to all the coaches at UNC, which is not what happened at all. I mean, a transfer is a big decision in the life of a recent high school kid.

Smith’s lingering frustration – and, more importantly, his urge to correct his teammate’s narrative – made now center Auburn Kessler one of his first calls when the former UNC playmaker joined the site. College Sports and Recruitment Coverage Web On3. com as a national basketball analyst in June.

Weeks later, Kessler publicly addressed his decision to transfer the The And 1 Show with KJ & Joe, a new podcast co-hosted by Smith and On3 social media recruiting genius Joe Tipton.

Smith already has teased a quote from Kessler – “The pandemic has affected a lot of people in different ways. For me, I just realized I wanted to be closer to home ”- and said On3 would roll out other clips before releasing the full episode of the podcast towards the start of the college basketball season in November.

This is just one example of how Smith, 25, uses his four seasons at UNC and connections across the Division I college basketball and NBA worlds to step into a new role. created.

“I learned a lot from UNC about judging talent, what an NBA pro looks like and the hard work it takes to get there,” Smith told the Fayetteville Observer. “And much of it is still fresh. There are a lot of players that I have seen that I have had my eyes on since playing and I can say, “Yeah, this guy is the real deal.”

He’s optimistic, for example, about a second flourishing of Caleb Love, his former teammate who entered UNC as a high-profile five-star point guard rookie but had a historically ineffective freshman season.

This Love is still averaging 10.5 points per game and has won victories over Duke despite shooting 31.6% from the field and 26.6% from 3 points, Smith said, gave him confidence in Love’s escape potential. Much like Love’s offseason work with NBA coach Drew Hanlen and a fresh start with new coach Hubert Davis.

Smith also swears by Tyson Walker, the former northeast guard who torched UNC for 21 points on 7-8 shots in the first half of an impromptu February game and has since been transferred to the State of Michigan.

“He can really fill it,” Smith said with a laugh.

College basketball, of course, is only half of Smith’s job. On the recruiting front, he tracked down prospects at flagship events in Atlanta, Miami and Las Vegas; analyzed the top 2022 players such as Duke commit Dariq Whitehead, UCLA commit Amari Bailey and Kentucky target Shaedon Sharpe; and, in an introductory column, offered his own personal advice to high school students looking to draw attention to recruiting.

Know your role. It is not just a matter of offense.

College coaches love charismatic players.

Have fun because these AAU moments don’t last forever.

This last point is particularly poignant for Smith, whose hoop career took him from high school Mater Dei to IMG Academy at the University of the Pacific and, finally, to UNC, where he represented the same No. 30 than his father, former UNC and NBA Kenny Smith, and played three seasons as a reserve point guard.

KJ Smith, left, wore number 30 at UNC from 2018-2021 in honor of his father, Kenny Smith, who left UNC in 1987 as the program's all-time leader in assists and steals and went on to win two NBA championships with the Houston Rockets.  .  Kenny is now a longtime analyst for TNT

Smith graduated from UNC with a double major in Sports Communication and Sports Administration, and graduated this spring as a senior redshirt. He could have used the extra year of NCAA eligibility to play at a new school, but “I knew it wasn’t for me,” Smith said. Neither was pursuing a career abroad.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Smith admitted, and it was an odd feeling for someone who had spent his childhood in NBA arenas and the past decade chasing his own dreams of playing football. basketball.

But Smith returned home to California and reconnected with Shannon Terry. He had first met the longtime sports media manager while researching investors for The Jet Academy, the online basketball skills training platform that Smith and his father – who are now immersed in. a career as a television analyst on TNT’s award-winning “Inside The NBA” show. – launched in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Smith and Terry quickly hit it off, and Smith said accepting the subsequent offer to join On3.com, Terry’s new sports media start-up after Rivals and 247Sports, was a no-brainer. Smith joined the website as a national basketball analyst in June, with Terry praising his “unlimited potential in the media.”

Since then, life has been a fun and busy challenge for Smith, who works in Los Angeles and sees his work at On3 as a continuation of the overall mindset he has found solace in during his career as basketball player.

“I love to work hard on something,” Smith said, “so I dove into On3 and thought to myself that I’m going to stay awake all night working on it – just like I would stay awake all night in the. gym during the day. It keeps me busy. “

And full of ideas. Smith is already considering in-season coverage plans for 2021-2022, and he maintains a list of potential guests for the And 1 Show podcast. When asked if any of his former Tar Heel teammates were on the deck after Kessler, he laughed, “I would interview all of my Carolina guys if I could.”

Five days later, he published a new article: “Senior Spotlight: Garrison Brooks’ Life after UNC. “

Read more:UNC basketball enters a prime situation with two rookies in 2022. How will the Tar Heels handle it?

Read more:Ready to learn more about CCA and college sports? Join our newsletter ‘Big Four and More’

Chapel Fowler is a recruiting reporter for The Fayetteville Observer and USA TODAY Network. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.



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