Apr 032007
 
Authors: Sean Star

Jason Smith took a giant step away from his senior season and toward the NBA Tuesday morning.

The Rams junior forward announced his intentions to declare himself eligible for the June 29 NBA Draft, a decision he initially told his teammates last week.

If Smith decides not to hire an agent, he has until June 18 to change his mind and return for his senior season.

“I owe it to myself and my family to assess what my possibilities are related to the draft,” Smith said in a statement. “I want to collect all the information that I can and be able to make a good decision.”

“I have had a great time at Colorado State, but I’m looking forward to this process,” he said. “I feel I am prepared, and I am excited to go as hard as I can to pursue this opportunity.”

Rams junior center Stuart Creason, a good friend of Smith’s, said he was “not that surprised” about the news.

“I knew eventually he was going (to declare),” Creason said.

For Creason, the adjustment to new Head Coach Tim Miles, who was hired two weeks ago, replacing Dale Layer, has overshadowed the thought of playing next season without the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.

“(The news) kind of gets a little lost,” he said. “Everyone’s attention is on making a really good impression on the new coach.”

Creason said Smith’s decision was greatly influenced last summer when he attended a basketball camp hosted by former NBA player Michael Curry. He appeared “pleased with where he thought he was going in the draft” after the camp, Creason said.

As of Tuesday, Smith was projected to get drafted anywhere from 13 to 33 according to several mock drafts on the Internet.

Only players selected among the 30 selections of the first round are guaranteed an NBA contract, however.

Smith’s choice to officially enter the draft could be influenced by the decision of other underclassmen to declare and has received nothing but positive feedback from those closest to the CSU athletic department.

“We want to help Jason and his family explore all possible opportunities so that they can make the best decision for him,” Miles said in a statement. “I support Jason and his family, and will do so in every way I can.”

Joel Cantalamessa, founder of the unofficial CSU sports Web site, ramnation.com, shared his thoughts with the Collegian.

“I personally think he’s making a smart move,” Cantalamessa said.

“By declaring himself eligible for the draft, and not hiring an agent, he affords himself the opportunity to go through the draft process, work out for scouts, and attend the NBA pre-draft camp.”

Smith averaged 16.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a junior this season. The business major currently ranks ninth in points (1281), sixth in rebounds (683), fifth in free throws made (361) and fifth in blocks (149) in the university’s all-time record book.

The junior finished this past season posting eight consecutive double-doubles – ranking him second on CSU’s all-time list with 24.

Smith’s announcement contradicts two statements he made toward the end of this season.

After CSU’s final game at Moby Arena this season, an 86-68 victory over Wyoming on Feb. 21, Smith said that he had not played his last home game; and after receiving a second straight first-team all-Mountain West Conference selection on March 5, the Kersey native said he would pursue a third consecutive honor next season.

Smith could join Bill Green as the only other Ram selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Green was selected by Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics with the ninth overall pick in 1963.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Sean Star can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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June 18- last day Smith can retract his decision

June 29- day of the 2007 NBA Draft in New York

23- number of Smith’s double-doubles, second in CSU history

2- number of first-team all-MWC selections

1963- the last year a Ram was drafted in the first round

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