December 6, 2021

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NLR's Smith makes it official: Signs letter with Razorbacks

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North Little Rock star and future University of Arkansas basketball player Nick Smith, Jr., took his signing ceremony to the Razorback fans on Saturday night.

Smith (6-5, 185), ESPN’s sixth-best player nationally in the 2022 class, inked his national letter of intent in front of a packed house at JJ’s Grill in Fayetteville.

Part of the nation’s third-best recruiting class overall per ESPN, Smith did so at halftime of the Arkansas-LSU football game.

“It’s just special having people here,” Smith said. “Going up to where the college and the campus is located is a pretty fun experience for me and my family.”

Smith was named the state’s best player last season after averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists as a junior at Sylvan Hills.

He chose Arkansas over Alabama, Auburn, UAPB, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oregon and others and committed to the Razorbacks on Sept. 29.

Smith wanted to do something different for his actual signing, according to his dad Nick Smith Sr.

“We as a family, were just trying to figure out if he wanted to sign early, the pros and cons of signing early versus late, and he came to the conclusion that he wanted to be a Razorback and whether he would be signing now or in the spring, that wouldn’t change,” said Smith Sr. “We just decided now would be a good time to do it and exciting for the fan base.

“JJ’s Grill was kind of one of the natural spots to do that and we were already going to be in the Fayetteville area because North Little Rock was playing Bentonville [in a scrimmage] this afternoon.

“Since we had already had his commitment ceremony in Central Arkansas, we wanted to do something a little out of the box and just kind of came up with the idea. I’m not going to say it was last minute, but we had to think through it and JJ’s Grill was gracious and opened up their doors to us. We feel like it is a pretty exciting time.”

Smith is the fourth of Arkansas’ five top 100 players to sign in the Nov. 10-17 early signing period with Magnolia guard Derrian Ford (6-5, 205) set to sign at 5:03 p.m. today.

The other three members of the class are Morrilton small forward Joseph Pinion (6-5, 180), Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen Catholic star Barry Dunning, Jr. (6-6, 205) and Branson Link Academy star Jordan Walsh (6-7, 200), ESPN’s seventh-best player.

“A lot of people have expectations for us, but we have our own goals of just trying to win every game, trying to get better everyday and get to where we are trying to get to,” Smith, Jr., said. ” But first, we are all just trying to take care of our senior season.”

Smith suffered a hand injury this summer and did not play in the scrimmage at Bentonville on Saturday.

But he is expected to make his season debut Thursday night when North Little Rock opens its season at Maumelle in the Hoopin’ for Hoodies Tournament.

“I’m looking forward to our team having a great season and excited about all the great talent we have,” Smith, Jr., said.

Smith was recruited to play at a variety of prep schools and also had offers from several leagues to go ahead and become a professional and skip his senior season of high school.

“The main thing with Nick is there were a thousand prep schools that wanted him to come — Montverde, Sunrise and all the top schools, you name them and he had an opportunity to go – but he didn’t want to,” Smith, Sr., said. “He wanted to stay home and do it in front of his family and the people that had supported them the whole way.

“This has been a long process, not just a one- or two-year deal, but an 11- or 12-year deal, so he wanted to finish his senior season out in front of the home fans.”

North Little Rock has put together a national schedule that will see it playing in several big tournaments in a variety of states.

“The silver lining is that they play at a high level and still have the opportunity to compete for a Geico National Championship,” Smith Sr. said.

“There was the Overtime [Elite] League, overseas options and the NBA G-League. He had all of those options, but he turned down a lot of money to stay home and be a Razorback.

“We feel like the college experience is the best way to go. If you go pro, you don’t get that college experience and you can’t put a price on that. Or at least we didn’t feel like the price they put on it was good enough.

“You just can’t put a price on being able to play in front of college fans, playing in front of 20,000 fans. Those moments you don’t ever get a chance to create.

“We want him to try and take the traditional route and be a kid because once you pro, being a kid is done. We felt like [he] made the right decision.”

The elder Smith is very proud of his son.

“I will just say that he sets a lot of expectations for himself and goals, short term and long term, and he has put in the work to accomplish some of his short term ones,” Smith, Sr., said. “It just seems like the goals he has set for himself so far that he has exceeded expectations for himself.

“He understands there is a lot more work to be done, but this is solid start to what he ultimately wants to be.”

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