On a team featuring limited senior contributions, freshman guard George Smith hopes to contribute in any way possible on a Quaker squad that is only poised to improve.
“George is tough, a competitor, a team-first guy, and has incredibly high character. I think he has a great future ahead of him here,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said.
Smith made his mark in high school, picking up 10 Division I offers while leading his high school team, Brooks School, to its conference final. Despite receiving offers from other top programs, becoming a Quaker was an obvious choice for Smith both athletically and academically.
After graduating last summer summa cum laude with a distinction in mathematics, for Smith, a balance between an excellent education and athletics was nothing short of a necessity.
“In high school, both of the schools I went to prepared me extremely well, allowing me to handle my time management outside of basketball,” Smith said.
With a high school career initially characterized by prolific three-point shooting, Smith has worked to break that mold, elevating all aspects of his game. He’s focused on defensive utility, working off the dribble, and seeing the floor.
Now a threat as a cutter, distributor, and finisher, he’s begun his evolution into a jack-of-all trades combo guard. And it's the other end of the floor where he has showcased tremendous improvement. Partially transforming into a defensive stopper after transferring to Brooks School, Smith was forced to guard his opposition’s elite offensive talents. He welcomed the task with open arms. Now, it’s one of his biggest assets.
“What jumps out at me now is I think he can be one of the best defenders we have. He can guard multiple guys … Just a real versatile player at a good size on the perimeter,” Donahue said.
Smith began his collegiate career against No. 20 Florida State, tallying 18 minutes of action. He’s since experienced more sporadic spurts of play, but has the second-most playing time of any freshman, trailing just Nick Spinoso. A large chunk of those minutes came against Temple on Saturday, when Smith played for 28 minutes, the most he's competed in a game all season, and finished with five points, two rebounds, and two assists. Limited minutes have not been a deterrent for Smith, however. For the 2021-22 season, he has the simple goals of self-improvement and doing whatever he can to help the team win.
This off-season was about physicality: building muscle and gaining strength to be a tougher, more effective player on both ends of the floor; attacking the lane to find open looks for his teammates; finishing at a higher percentage around the rim. This season has been about adjusting to the collegiate pace of play.
“Whatever my role is for this team, that’s what I want to be," Smith said. “If being a three-and-d guy is my role, that's what I’ll do. If they want me to rebound I’m going to rebound. Whatever it takes for us to win."
Collegiate adjustment is not something solely specific to Smith. The Quakers are a young team, and COVID-19 has inhibited the in-game development of every player on the roster. Match that with a brutal opening stretch highlighted by matchups against three AP top-25 ranked teams, and growing pains are inevitable.
Improvement will come with time, though, and Smith is optimistic that he will be a significant contributor to a successful team in the future. He’s dreaming big: multiple Ivy League championships and the title of captain are in his sights.
With a team marked by younger talent, including sophomore star Jordan Dingle and junior sharpshooter Jonah Charles, the future of Quaker basketball looks bright. And according to Donahue, that future includes George Smith.
“Down the line, I think he’s the type of player that really does well here. He’s a high-level competitor, has some toughness, is even-keeled — no ups and downs. And those are the kids that end up playing a lot and being leaders when they’re upperclassmen.”
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