Lenzelle Smith Jr. is already embarking on his third school year as a member of the Ohio State men’s basketball squad.
Lenzelle Smith averaged 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds last year
Smith is one of three returning starters from OSU’s squad that went 31-8 overall and reached the NCAA Final Four. In two years, Smith has been a member of back-to-back Big Ten championship teams.
As a sophomore, Smith started all 39 games. He averaged 25.4 minutes as well as 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He shot 37.8 percent from behind the three-point arc (31 of 82). He had a career-high 28 points in a home win over Indiana and also led the Buckeyes with 17 points in the home win over Michigan.
We had a chance to sit down with Smith recently and he brought us up to date on the off-season program, how the team has looked over the summer and what he expects to happen in the season ahead. Here is a look at our interview with Smith.
Q. For you guys last year to make it to the Final Four, you beat some really good teams along the way. What was that like to get there? What do you remember from that?
Smith: “Believe it or not, everything went so fast. I was just trying to stay focused on the next game. A lot of that stuff, I let it slip away. But the memories you have of walking through the Superdome and hanging out with my teammates between the games and doing the media stuff down there.
“Just being down in New Orleans and celebrating we had made it to the Final Four, that was a memorable moment for me. But just as the season went on, we were trying to stay focused and stay grounded and focus on the next game.
“At the end of the season, that’s when teams want to play their best basketball. We struggled all season long last year. But it seemed when it was March Madness, we were able to put things together and get the job done.”
Q. What are the things you did from your freshman year to your sophomore year that allowed you to have the success you had?
Smith: “Just me being hurt (with a wrist injury) my first year and not being able to get on the court, I think that made me work a lot harder. I saw what some of the guys did to help them be factors for this team. I learned from them and followed what they did. I kept my head and focused on what I needed to do to make sure I was on the court the following year. I think the hard work paid off.”
Q. Since you’ve been here, you’ve had older guys to look up to. Is it different now to know that only Evan Ravenel is older than you and your classmates, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, and you guys are the leaders?
Smith: “After my first year of being in the starting five, it’s just kind of implied that you’re a leader out there. You might not hear it or see it sometimes. But I’m always trying to be a leader. That’s just my nature as a basketball player. I try and help guys and show them things I’ve learned. Guys are looking up to me and to see how I’m going to respond. I need to make sure I am leading guys the right way and staying positive.”
Q. You only have about a month until preseason practice starts. What are the things you did this summer to get ready and what do you still want to work on?
Smith: “I want to improve my shooting. I showed some spurts throughout the season when I did take shots that I had the ability to knock some shots down. I think my appearance in the tournament, I think they will be looking for more productivity out of me on the offensive side. I don’t want to disappoint anybody.
“I know I have shown some spurts, but I know it is always, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ I want to be able to knock down shots when the lights come on and they’re depending on me this go around.”
Smith: “For me, I know just being a part of our tournament run my freshman year, that helped me mature as a player and understand what it took to get there. Hopefully those guys have embraced that. For the younger guys who didn’t get to play that much last year, I hope they come out stronger. I hope they’ve kept that fire and desire and get better.
“For me, ironically, I was on the team but it didn’t feel like I did that much my first year. But practicing and pushing guys to get better is doing a lot more for them than they could ever imagine. Hopefully those guys will realize it’s their time to step up to the plate and keep the tradition and the winning going around here.”
Smith: “That means everything to our team. Whether they know it or not, they will be playing big roles for this team. We’ve had guys who have had success in the past like myself, Deshaun and Craft. Teams will plan against us and those younger guys will have a chance to show what they can do. They will get a chance to contribute like I know they can.”
Q. Out of that group, who are one or two guys that you say, ‘Hey, I can’t wait till the world sees this guy play’?”
Smith: “I might say, yeah. But I will hold that off. I have definitely seen more than two. I’ve seen several of them who can do that. It’s exciting for me. They have taken some leaps. I want to see how well they do out there playing with us on the court.”
Q. How about Aaron Craft? He sat out some of the summer with an injury, but got back into it in July. How has he looked?
Smith: “Last year, Aaron showed he can get to the basket. He is a crafty guy. He can shift and he’s starting to realize just from our tournament experience that sometimes it will be harder to get to the basket, especially when teams have seen you do it all year.
“Now I’ve seen him working on things like his one-dribble pull-up and shooting off the dribble. That’s the game for a guard. You have to be able to shoot the ball off the bounce. The more he gets that down, he will be even more dangerous and harder to guard on offense.”
Q. Ohio State has released its schedule for 2012-13 (see below). You see games on there like Duke, Marquette and another chance at Kansas. Does that get you excited to see those challenges?
Smith: “I’m sure guys are pumped and excited about who we’re playing. I think the first thing everybody is talking about is this game against Marquette on the aircraft carrier. That’s our first official game. No one wants to be embarrassed or lose any game, but especially the first game.
“Just the fact it’s on the aircraft carrier, it’s a great honor to play in front of the crowd we will get to play in front of. We want to go out there and represent Buckeye Nation. It’s going to be fun.”
Q. Deshaun Thomas got to play in some national events this summer and it sounds like he did pretty good. What’s his attitude been like since he decided to come back? Has he jumped into this like Coach Matta says with ‘two feet in’ or what’s been his thought process?
Smith: “Deshaun was out doing great things at camps all over the country. For us, we understand what he’s out there doing. He was helping himself get better. Now that he has been around, we get to see some of the things he has worked on.
“He’s still Deshaun. He is a very good shooter. He’s working on his ballhandling. Once he gets everything together the way he wants it, he will be that All-American that he’s projected to be.”
Q. As an athlete switching from quarters to semesters here at Ohio State, what are some of the ways you have been impacted by that? It cut down your summer, although you’d probably be here for summer school anyway. Are you guys happy with this?
Smith: “I don’t think we know yet. This was only our third week (of fall semester). We are trying to roll with the punches. It extends the classes. We feel like we’ve just gotten back in school. Maybe as time goes by and guys get weary of the classwork, we’ll complain. But for now it’s fine. We’ve been waiting to get back into school.
“You just have more classes for a longer period of time. The benefits, we haven’t seen them yet like getting out earlier in the spring (in May). After we go through a year of that, we’ll be able to say we like one better than the other.”
OSU Schedule Contains Challenges
Ohio State released its 2012-13 schedule earlier this month. Final game times and television broadcast information will be released at a later date.
Ohio State has won each of the last three Big Ten regular-season titles along with two of the last three postseason tournament titles. OSU coach Thad Matta believes the 2012-13 schedule will help his current squad prepare for a run at a fourth-consecutive league crown.
"Our team has been hard at work since our appearance in the Final Four last March," Matta said. "I like the mix of veteran and underclassmen on our roster. They will be challenged throughout the year as we prepare for Big Ten competition. Our league will be extraordinary once again and our team will be tested both in our non-conference and conference schedule."
The Buckeyes open the season at the 2012 Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C., against Marquette Nov. 9. The Ohio State women's basketball team also will participate in the event against Notre Dame. The games will be played outdoors on the U.S.S. Yorktown.
Also highlighting the non-conference schedule will be a matchup against Kansas Dec. 22 at Value City Arena. The game is a rematch of the 2012 Final Four game against the Jayhawks in New Orleans as well as a regular season match-up at Lawrence, both won by KU.
The Buckeyes also will play in the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. Games will be played in Columbus Nov. 11 (Albany), the home opener for the Buckeyes, and Nov. 23 (Missouri-Kansas City). Ohio State will travel to Uncasville, Conn., to face Rhode Island Nov. 17 and either Washington or Seton Hall Nov. 18 in the four-game event.
The Buckeyes, who earned a share of the 2012 Big Ten regular-season title a season ago with a 13-5 league mark, aim for their sixth league crown under Matta's direction. The conference returned to the lengthier conference schedule in 2008 after playing a 16-game schedule from 1998-2007. With Nebraska joining the league in 2011, the Buckeyes will again take on seven league foes twice while playing Penn State and Purdue once each on the road and taking on Iowa and Minnesota once each at Value City Arena.
Ohio State will play at least 14 games this season vs. 10 teams that played in the 2012 NCAA Tournament with seven of those games taking place away from Columbus. Among them is the Big Ten/ACC Challenge contest at Duke scheduled for a 9:30 p.m. ET tip Nov. 28 on ESPN.
In addition to the 2012 NCAA Tournament foes, the 2012-13 schedule has five games against 2012 National Invitational Tournament participants, including a lone matchup against Minnesota Feb. 20 in Columbus. The Golden Gophers advanced to the NIT title game before falling to Stanford.
The Buckeyes begin Big Ten regular-season competition Jan. 2 against Nebraska at VCA. It will start Ohio State's 101st year as a member of the Big Ten Conference in men's basketball. Following the league opener, Ohio State takes to the road for three of the next four games against Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State with a home game vs. Michigan Jan. 13.
Ohio State returns three starters and three of the top five offensive players from a year ago. The Buckeyes finished 31-8 overall and advanced to at least the NCAA "Sweet 16" for the third-consecutive season.
Junior Deshaun Thomas, a Blue Ribbon 2012 preseason First Team All-America selection, leads the returnees with an average of 15.9 ppg and 5.4 rpg.
Classmate Aaron Craft, the defending Big Ten defensive player of the year and a 2012 CoSIDA First Team Academic All-America, recorded 98 steals last season while handing out 191 assists.
Another junior, Lenzelle Smith Jr., rounds out the returning starters list. He, like both Thomas and Craft, started all 39 games a season ago.
After five season in Indianapolis, the annual Big Ten tournament will be staged at the United Center in Chicago for the first time since 2007. The 2013 event will open March 14 with the champion crowned March 17. Ohio State has appeared in the title game in each of the last four seasons and six times overall with Matta on the Ohio State sidelines.
Ohio State men's basketball season tickets are on-sale now. The only way to guarantee tickets to the Kansas game Dec. 22 is with season tickets. That game unlikely to be available on a single-game basis. For more information, contact Athletic Ticket Sales at 614-292-0043 or AthleticSales@osu.edu to speak with an account representative about ticket options. Multi-game packages and additional ticket information will be available shortly.
Below is the 2012-13 Ohio State Men's Basketball Schedule:
30 (Tues) WALSH (Exh.)
9 (Fri) 1-vs. Marquette&
11 (Sun) 2-ALBANY
17 (Sat) 3-vs. Rhode Island
18 (Sun) 3-vs. Washington% or Seton Hall%
23 (Fri) 2-MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY (UMKC)
28 (Wed) 4-at Duke&
1 (Sat) NORTHERN KENTUCKY
8 (Sat) LONG BEACH STATE&
12 (Wed) SAVANNAH STATE%
15 (Sat) UNC ASHEVILLE&
18 (Tues) WINTHROP
22 (Sat) KANSAS&
29 (Sat) CHICAGO STATE
2 (Wed) NEBRASKA
5 (Sat) at Illinois
8 (Tues) at Purdue&
13 (Sun) MICHIGAN&
19 (Sat) at Michigan State&
22 (Tues) IOWA
26 (Sat) at Penn State
29 (Tues) WISCONSIN&
2 (Sat) at Nebraska
5 (Tues) at Michigan&
10 (Sun) INDIANA&
14 (Thurs) NORTHWESTERN%
17 (Sun) at Wisconsin&
20 (Wed) MINNESOTA%
24 (Sun) MICHIGAN STATE&
28 (Thurs) at Northwestern%
5 (Tues) at Indiana&
10 (Sun) ILLINOIS
14-17 (Th-Sun) 5-at Big Ten Tournament
Home games in BOLD CAPS
1-Carrier Classic, U.S.S. Yorktown, Charleston, S.C.
2-Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
3-Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Uncasville, Conn.
4-Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
5-2013 Big Ten Tournament, United Center, Chicago
(&) 2012 NCAA Tournament Participant
(%) 2012 (Postseason) NIT Participant