I would venture to say that 95% of all the NBA players I interview, watch and write about are younger than I am. It’s not something that bothers me, but it is definitely something I notice as I glance at the media guides. It simply means that I am getting old(er), and I have to be mindful of some of the basketball references I make.
So before I decided to interview Atlanta Hawks forward/center Joe Smith, I did some research on him, and I discovered that we are basically the same age (I’m 35, he’ll be there in July), which left me quite pleased. When you throw in the fact that I watched Smith take the University of Maryland and the college basketball world by storm in the early 90s, I was even more enthusiastic at the prospect of speaking with him.
Since being drafted first in the 1995 draft, Smith has played for 10 NBA teams, and has amassed career per game averages of 11 points and six rebounds. The Hawks signed him as a free agent in August of 2009, and although he’s only averaged three points and two rebounds so far, his veteran leadership will almost certainly come in handy come playoff time. Last season, when Smith was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he played his best during the first round playoff sweep against the Detroit Pistons, when he averaged 11 points and five rebounds.
Prior to his team’s matchup against the Washington Wizards, I caught up with Smith and asked how he’s been able to stay productive in the NBA this long, his impressions of All-Star forward Al Horford, and whether he still follows University of Maryland basketball.
Rashad Mobley: My editor chatted with Juwan Howard a couple of weeks back, and he talked about how he is able to keep in shape and stay prepared to play even at an advanced age. You’ve been in the league one less year than he has, so what are you doing to still be in the NBA and productive at age 35?
Joe Smith: Well, I just do things during the course of the season to kind of maintain and keep my body up for the long haul. By doing that, I can get better and better and then be fresh down the stretch and in the playoffs. Its about working hard in the summertime, and maintaining once the season starts.
RM: What types of things do you do specifically during the course of the season
JS: Before every game I try to get in the weight room to get my muscles together and all that, and I try to do as much cardio as I can. That way no matter when I get called to come in the game and take the floor, I’m ready physically. Even though at this point in my career my game is way more mental than it is physical, I still need weights and cardio to keep me right physically.
RM: Do you show the young players what you do to keep in shape, so they can possibly play as long you have?
JS: Well the good thing about the group we have here, they watch what I do from afar, and copy it during the course of the season. Whenever they do have questions about what I do or what I’ve done during the course of my career to maintain the level I’m at right now, I am always happy to answer.
RM: How much longer do you see yourself playing?
JS: You know I really have not put a specific number on it. My body feels great, I’m still having fun playing the game, I’m having fun with the guys on my team, so I’m going to keep going as long as I possibly can. As long as there is a team that wants me, I will be in shape and stay ready to contribute.
RM: This team always seems to be playing with loose with a lot energy. What is it about this team that allows everyone to play like that night after night?
JS: Well first of all, we have a lot of guys that believe and trust in each other. They like to have fun off the court, and we take it on the court, its all business. We can fight, yell, curse and do whatever on the court, and it rarely spills over into the locker room. I’ve been on teams where that hasn’t been the case but not here. And to be a successful team, you gotta be able to do that night in and night out.
RM: Talk a little about Al Horford. He’s been more consistent this year, he made the All-Star team, and he just seems to be getting more and more confident. What have you seen since you’ve been watching him up close and what have you done to help him out?
JS: He just gets better every year man. I watched him from afar in the past, and I was impressed. He has the footwork, the drive, the right attitude and he can still improve as a ball player. And to be playing with him now, and to see how hard he works on the court, off the court, in the weight room whatever, its fun to be around him and he keeps me feeling young. Plus like I said, he’s really trying to get better as a player, and I’m trying to help him out as much as I can with the knowledge I’ve gained.
RM: Let’s talk University of Maryland basketball. Do you still follow the team?
JS: All the time man, All the time!
RM: What do you think of Greivis Vasquez and is he a pro prospect?
JS: I’ve always liked what he brings to the table and I like what they are doing as team. They are heating up at the right time, and its good to see what they are doing, when no one really gave them a chance this year and its really opened up some eyes. As far as Vasquez, he’s definitely a player. He knows the game, he knows what it takes to win, and I can definitely see him in the pros.
RM: Has Gary Williams ever asked you to speak to the team to motivate them?
JS: Nah he hasn’t, but if it came up I would have no problem with that. But he hasn’t asked yet.
RM: What would you say to the, just out of curiosity, if he did ask you to speak to them before the [NCAA]tournament?
JS: I would just tell them to keep doing what they’re doing. There are obviously some improvements that every team needs to show no matter what time of season it is. But I’d tell them to keep grinding and putting that effort out there to give themselves a chance to win.