How Jabari Smith turned into the potential No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick... at Auburn
Jabari Smith wasn't a top-five prospect coming out of high school. But during his time on the Plains, he developed into the odds-on favorite to go 1.1 on Thursday night.
PF Jabari Smith (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
Bruce Pearl realized it standing inside a converted ballroom at a Bahamas resort on the day before Thanksgiving.
That afternoon, Auburn lost a marathon double-overtime game with UConn to open a three-day time at the competitive Battle 4 Atlantis. Most will remember K.D. Johnson catching fire to send the game into overtime and, then, double overtime. Some will remember fellow sophomore Adama Sanogo scoring 30 and senior guard R.J. Cole dropping 24 to lead UConn.
But what stood out to Pearl was the performance from the youngest player on the floor — Jabari Smith’s 22 points and perfect 12-for-12 afternoon from the free-throw line. Dan Hurley’s Huskies rarely had an answer for him.
Smith had scored more points already in the first month of his college career. But those 23 points came against lowly Louisiana-Monroe at home, not a basketball blue blood like UConn in a game more than 700 miles away.
In a game that featured 224 combined points and took 50 minutes to play, Smith looked like the best player out there. And to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did it again less than 24 hours later, going a near-perfect 7-8 from 2-point range in a grind-it-out win over constant mid-major headache Loyola-Chicago.
Then Smith scored 22 again, hitting four 3-pointers and letting the entire Boeheim family hear about it in a blowout of tradition-soaked Syracuse.
There was no doubt after that. Smith wasn’t just good. He was potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft good.
“When I saw him compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis, three nights in a row against, you know, really good teams — 'OK. This one here's different. This one here is different,’” Pearl recalled this week.
“And then all he did was just build on it from there.”