Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ex-Knick Chris Smith Joins Mill Rats

(Photo: USA Today Sports)

The Saint John Mill Rats have thrown some former NBA talent into the mix in their push for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The team signed and activated point guard Chris Smith on Friday.

Smith heads into Saint John with a rich basketball background, being the younger brother of Cleveland Cavaliers star J.R. Smith and coming out of the prestigious basketball program at the University of Louisville. Last season, he played professionally with KB Peja, a team that competes in the Kosovo Basketball Superleague and the Balkan League.

Prior to going overseas, Smith signed with the NBA's New York Knicks, making him just the ninth player in NBL Canada history to bring that level of experience. No former NBA players have joined the NBL Canada since Will Blalock of the Detroit Pistons in the 2013–14 season.

"This is a great opportunity to have," Smith told NBLCNET after reaching a deal with the Mill Rats. "I am blessed to have a second chance to continue my dream of being a professional basketball player. I am here because I want to create my own identity."

Chris (right) with his brother J.R. at a Knicks photoshoot.

Smith's stint with the Knicks didn't go as planned. He suffered a knee injury in the first week of training camp with the team, and it took a whole year to recover. With the Knicks, his time was mostly taken up by assignments to the Erie BayHawks of the D-League. But he managed to squeak out two games for New York, nonetheless. Still, his time in the best basketball league in the world sticks with him.

"Playing in the NBA has instilled in me the extra push to never give up," he said. "This experience I have will separate me from other players in this league, because of the lessons and experiences I've had playing in the NBA. I hope to be able to share what I've learned with my teammates."

Since leaving Kosovo, Smith spent most of his time training with his brother, J.R, in Cleveland. His agent, Daniel Hazan, reached out to the Mill Rats last week and Smith subsequently flew into New Brunswick for a workout. General manager Ian McCarthy was looking for a scoring guard at the time, and he appeared to have found one. The Mill Rats back court, made up of Doug Herring Jr. and Anthony Anderson, leaves many teams' hands full, single-handedly. The addition of Smith only fortifies the guard position.

McCarthy discussed the newcomer's role, "He's a combo, so he could spend some time at the point as well as the shooting guard, giving us a punch when Double A [Anthony Anderson] or Doug [Herring Jr.] are getting a breather."

Smith made his debut for the Mill Rats on Sunday, delivering 10 points and 2 assists in a big, 107–95, win over the Halifax Hurricanes. He shot 3-of-6 from the field and hit two three-pointers in 12 minutes.