Arizona recruited basketball player Ray Smith in the beginning, before too many people really knew about him.
And the UA was there at the end, after Smith’s knee failed him and he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
Strangely enough, the injury might have helped the Wildcats’ case.
The 6-foot-8-inch, five-star small forward from Las Vegas committed to Arizona’s 2015 recruiting class on Sunday, three days after suffering the torn ACL at the Adidas Unrivaled Camp in Chicago.
The injury happened as he dribbled up to a defender, went to go left and attempted a spin move.
The knee “pretty much buckled,” Smith told the Star Monday. “And I just felt pain.”
Later that night, after finding out the severity of the injury, Smith spoke with coaches from a few schools he was considering — his final three included Arizona, Connecticut and Louisville — but the Wildcats’ approach stood out.
Other coaches “called and said to get better,” he said. “But Arizona was like, ‘If we can do anything. …’ They were more helping. They were saying how it happens to people and that they’re not giving up on me.
“It showed a lot of character, a lot about the university and how they are as people, to know I have a torn ACL, but they were still in it for the long haul, so that was a pretty big thing.”
Smith said he wasn’t originally going to pick a school this week, but the ACL injury sped up the process. Smith chose the UA so he could “focus on getting it better and developing as a player.”
He’s currently on crutches and will have surgery sometime this week. As of now, he expects to miss his senior season at Las Vegas High School. This comes after a junior season in which he averaged 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.0 steals. He’s rated a five-star recruit by all the major scouting services, and Scout rates him as the No. 3 small forward — and No. 22 overall player — in the class of 2015.
Smith joins five-star guard Justin Simon from Temecula, California, as the first two commits in Sean Miller’s 2015 class. And Miller is hot on the trail of a few other prized recruits, including two guards — Allonzo Trier of Seattle and Isaiah Briscoe of New Jersey.
Arizona’s honesty and loyalty from the get-go is what sold Smith on the UA.
After his sophomore season, in which he averaged 10.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, his first three offers were from San Diego State, UNLV and the UA.
“We built a great relationship,” Smith said, “and we’re just talking and (Miller) told me, he’s like, ‘You have it; you have something special,’ and he told me that ‘this college and that college are gonna start coming in’.
“So everything he said happened, and that said something about loyalty. He saw in me what no one else saw in me, so that was a big thing.”
Smith developed a close relationship with UA assistant Damon Stoudamire, and was impressed with the UA’s facilities on his lone visit to Tucson. He also came out to the MGM Grand Arena for the Pac-12 tournament, and was blown away by the fan support for the Wildcats.
“That’s when I saw how loud it was,” Smith said. “As a basketball player, that’s what you want. A lot of people say that’s what you live for, but it’s what I play for. To show up in big moments and big situations, that’s what keeps me driven during the game.”
Regardless of whether he plays his senior high school season, Smith figures to compete for playing time as a UA freshman in 2015-16, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Stanley Johnson all candidates to leave early for the NBA.
“I want to come in and make an impact as soon as possible,” Smith said. “What I liked about Arizona was they stayed honest with me. They said, ‘Ray, you have a chance to come in and make an impact, but it’s all about how hard you work.’
“Truthfully, that’s all I want. I just want my future in my hands. I know I’m gonna work and prevail, but they were honest with me. They weren’t trying to sell me any story about what I was gonna be,” Smith added. “It was amazing how honest they were throughout this whole thing, and I’m really happy with my decision.”