BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09: Craig Smith #83 of the Portland Trail Blazers tries to get around JaJuan Johnson #12 of the Boston Celtics on March 9, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 104-86. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Craig Smith has bounced around the league in the early stages of his career, but the former Boston College basketball star has been trying to find the right spot and is working hard with the Portland Trail Blazers.
We're all looking for something in life. A soul mate, a high paying job, approval from peers. There's plenty that people can search for. Craig Smith, for one, is searching for the right fit in his sixth year in the NBA.
Smith, an Inglewood, California native who eventually starred on the Boston College basketball team, was selected early in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the six-foot-seven forward has struggled to find a permanent home ever since. He had his moments in the three seasons he spent in Minnesota. Smith was named to the NBA's All-Rookie team in the 2006-07 season after averaging 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in a career-high 82 games. His scoring improved slightly in his second season with the T'Wolves, with his average increasing by exactly two points per game in 77 appearances. By his third season, Smith was averaging double-digit points (10.1 points), but the Wolves traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason.
Although he had shown marked improvement with the Timberwolves, Smith's production declined in the two years spent in Hollywood. Smith averaged 7.8 points and 3.8 boards in 75 games in 2009-10 but posted averages of 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 27 fewer games one year later.
Smith wasn't retained by the Clippers, but had an opportunity to continue playing in the league when presented with a contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers in December of 2011. He has played 34 games this season (zero starts) and is averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds.
"We were looking for some bigs, and we had an opportunity to bring him on board," said Blazers head coach Nate McMillan. "He's a veteran that ... at the start of the season we were looking to add not only bigs to our lineup but some experience. He really fit what we were looking for."
"I think overall it's been well," Smith said about his career prior to Friday's loss to the Boston Celtics. "The league is totally different than college in a sense. A lot more travel, and if you don't win, sometimes different situations happen. So [I'm] just trying to find the right spot, but at the same time, I'm blessed to have the opportunity to play against the best players in the world."
Smith's veteran presence has helped in light of the Blazers' misfortune, which has included injuries to former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden and star guard Brandon Roy, whose degenerative knees forced him to retire at the season's start. Portland has been struggling, owning a 20-21 record after losing five of its last seven, including an 18-point loss to Boston.
"We're still fighting," said Smith, who scored four and had six boards against the Celtics. "It's a crazy season, though. A game every other day, not a lot of practice time for us to really jell together as a team. But overall, it's been pretty [good]. Unfortunate that our record is what it is, but we still have an opportunity to put ourselves in a good position."
Smith's professional basketball career has seen its ups and downs, but there is no debating the success he had in college. His four seasons at Boston College were extremely fruitful, and he finished his collegiate career with 2,349 points, which ranks second all-time in program history. Smith averaged 18.1 points and 8.6 rebounds in four seasons in Chestnut Hill, but his senior season was arguably his best. Smith shot an impressive 60.3 percent and averaged a career-best 19.9 points as well as 7.9 rebounds. As a result, he was named to the AP All-America Third Team.
Even now, Smith has been following the Boston College hoops team, which recently wrapped up a 9-22 season with a 78-57 loss to N.C. State in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Boston College had nine freshmen on its roster, making it difficult for second-year head coach Steve Donahue. Still, the Eagles had their moments.
"They had their spurts," Smith said about his alma mater. "They're just really young. Sometimes it's a process. Next year they should be much better than they were this year."
Smith was even able to see his Eagles play this season in Los Angeles, where he met Donahue.
"I talked to him after the game." Smith said. "He's a really good guy."
Of course, Smith didn't play for Coach Donahue, who didn't come along until the start of last season. Al Skinner, the program's all-time winningest head coach, was Smith's coach.
"Skinner is more laid back, ran a strict offense, really stuck to our principles," said Smith. "Donahue, ... he has to kind of force the offense on the younger guys, but at the same time, he's got to get it going in that sense. I think he's doing a pretty good job so far, it's just unfortunate."
A handful of former Eagles have spoken out against the current athletic administration, with both the football and basketball teams trending downwards in recent years. Smith isn't one of them, though, instead recognizing that it takes time to rebuild after changes in management.
"It would be nice to have more wins on both sides, being that we've had success in the past and a lot of pros, you would think that it would be on it's way up in a sense," Smith said. "When you start over in a sense, sometimes it takes time."
Smith has proven that he has the skill set to succeed, and with constant improvement while finding the right situation, he can continue to help teams, live his dream and maybe win a ring.