LAS VEGAS — Today was supposed to be the day Ray Smith would become an Arizona Wildcat.
The UA commit from Las Vegas expected his Dream Vision club team would make today’s ESPN-telecast finals of the Adidas Super 64. So he figured he would play, then announce his choice on camera.
“I’m a very arrogant type of person when it comes to the court,” said Smith, 17. “So I thought we were going to make it to (the final on) Sunday, and I was going to try to do it on TV.”
But those plans, and Smith’s senior season at Las Vegas High School, were blown up on July 10 when the 2015 five-star wing tore his left ACL. He had surgery on the knee last week and could only watch from the sidelines Saturday, his leg propped up in a cast, as Dream Vision coasted in its second championship bracket game.
Yet he was OK with all of this. Improbably, maybe even more than OK with it. He just moved his plans up a bit, committing to the Wildcats on July 13 in the wake of what he called positive support from UA coaches, and he stayed positive himself.
He explained how during an interview Saturday at Las Vegas’ Cashman Center:
Is this a tough time, missing all this (travel ball tournaments) and your senior year? You’ve got to be bummed.
A: I go through days. Things happen. People die. People get hurt. You look every week, and there’s a kid who tore his ACL. A lot of people say “Why me?” But my question is, “Why not me? What have I done that’s so special to not get this to happen to myself?” I look at it as a blessing. Once I get through it, I’ll have a story of how I dealt with the obstacle of a torn ACL, how I stayed positive and how I can be a role model for people who tore their ACL or might tear their ACL.
Why did you decide to commit earlier than you expected?
A: (Arizona coaches) were always very honest with me, and I like that about them. If I had a good game, I had a good game. If I had a bad game, they’d let me know what’s up. With my ACL, that kind of sped up the process as far as where I was going to go to school. The time was so negative when I tore the ACL. Everyone was saying “Hey, Ray, get better.” I’ve had 115 messages that I still have on my phone that I refuse to open because I don’t look at this as a sorrowful time. I changed it to a positive time. I committed to the University of Arizona, and I’m going from there.
In what way did it speed up your decision?
A: Time. I needed time. With this ACL, I don’t want people calling me every day … and that was one thing I knew would be positive, put a smile on my face.
Did you think other schools were scared off because of the injury?
A: I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t answer anybody’s calls. … After I saw how the University of Arizona acted — anyone else, if they wanted to pull back, go ahead and pull back.
Is the positive attitude all you or do you have people talking to you? Isn’t it hard to do that?
A: Yeah. Mostly it’s me. But I am human. I do have my breakdown days, and then it goes to my father who talks to me and says, “Hey, it’s a blessing you have a leg to even tear.” I’m blessed that I have the ability to even play basketball and the blessing to go to a D-I level. It’s all blessings, man.
Have you had any bad injuries before?
A: I broke my hand a couple of times, but that’s about it. Nothing excruciating like this.
Will you play some of your senior season?
A: Maybe. Maybe the playoffs.
What else will you do now?
A: The injury doesn’t clip me off the team. I’m going to be at every practice, pushing my teammates, not only physically but mentally and, man, I know that I’m a comfort to a lot of my teammates on the court. But even with me not on the court I can say, “Hey, OK, let’s play.” And hopefully they can just bear down to the playoffs, and we’ll win this state.
You’ve talked about how Arizona supported you after the injury. But before that, what did you like about Arizona?
A: I have a great relationship with (UA assistant coach) Damon Stoudamire, and I’ve talked to Sean Miller also. They’re very honest people, and I love it that they kind of have the attitude of “We’ll take you now.” That’s what I love the most, that they were ready to take me as soon as possible and not everybody who offers you does that.
The fans are a huge part, too. They show so much love, it’s ridiculous. When I committed, I had every Arizona fan tweet at me or tweet something about me. I’m very thankful to have a supportive family like that.
When did Damon start a relationship with you?
A: Damon came up to me super early. I had my second offer, and I believe Arizona was my third offer. Damon just told me, “You’re gonna be something special if you keep working.” That was the goal. I already made a huge jump mentally and physically, and basketball-wise, I knew I could make another jump and another jump.
Damon was there when all the big schools came in too late. Then on top of that, they had a great season last year, so that shows you they know what they’re doing.