Smith feels future still bright after MSU career

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 15, 2001

[03/15/01] STARKVILLE The are-you-kidding-me expression on Quentin Smith’s face is enough of an answer.

The question: Has your college career been a disappointment?

The former Vicksburg High star-turned-role-player at Mississippi State hurries to chew his chicken, then swallows and says, “Not at all … I met my future wife and got an education.”

It was a typical answer from a not-so-typical athlete, whose girlfriend of four years is Jamilla Espy, daughter of former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy.

Smith loves basketball, but he isn’t defined by it. He says that just because his playing career hasn’t taken the path most expected doesn’t mean he was not successful at MSU, which advanced to the second round of the NIT with a 75-68 win over Southern Mississippi Wednesday night.

And even though the senior post player’s days with the Bulldogs are winding down, he said his basketball career may just be getting started.

“I’m still not up to my potential yet,” said Smith, who was the Mississippi player of the year in 1996.

“My career is far from being over with. I’ve got a lot of overseas options, just because of my size,” the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder added. “If I go over there and make a name for myself, who knows what may happen?”

Getting to Madison Square Garden for the final four of the NIT would be a good way to get noticed a little sooner.

“You can get national recognition anytime you’re playing in March, no matter what tournament it is,” Smith said. “We have a chance to make a statement. I think we’ve got a good chance to make it. I wouldn’t be surprised if all four SEC teams go.”

Because of center Robert Jackson’s departure last month, Smith has a chance to finish out his college career just like it began as a major contributor.

Now, his role has changed. He scored in double figures in his first five games as a freshman, but numerous injuries, differences with then-head coach Richard Williams, a transfer to Southern Mississippi and, ultimately, a return to State after having to sit out a year when USM coach James Green refused to grant him a release kept him grounded.

This season was the healthiest he’s been since high school, but by then, Jackson had established himself.

Since he left, Smith’s minutes have gone up considerably. Coach Rick Stansbury uses him as a stopper and freshman Mario Austin as a scorer. Smith did what was asked of him Wednesday, blocking three shots in just 15 minutes and shutting down USM center Vandarel Jones.

“He did a great job defensively,” Stansbury said of Smith. “He contested shots and didn’t give up any easy baskets.”

He had a key stop with just over a minute to go and State clinging to a five-point lead. Bernard Duncan blew by T.J. Billups and was headed for a wide-open basket when Smith rushed over to cut off the lane and alter the shot, causing an airball.

He rotated with Austin on every possession in the final minutes.

It’s not the most glorious job, but Smith doesn’t mind.

“I’m just happy to be on the floor, contributing in some way,” he said. “It’s hard work, but I want hard work.”

But the elbow-throwing tussles in the paint isn’t the style he’s most comfortable with.

“Some colleges were recruiting me as a three (small forward),” Smith said. “In due time, I’ll get a chance to play there, maybe try a few 3s.”

Smith doesn’t question his role. He has a close relationship with Stansbury, who recruited Smith out of VHS and consoled him when his mother died over the summer before his freshman season.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs together,” said Smith, whose father died when he was younger. “Between Coach Stansbury and my brother (Stacy), they were about all I had in this world then.

“I understand his situation. Everything he does is for a reason.”

And despite several newspaper stories playing up his first matchup with Southern Miss since leaving, Smith said he doesn’t hold a grudge against Green or any USM players.

“It wasn’t personal,” he said. “I know why Coach Green did what he did. I’m still friends with those guys.”

His role model in sports is St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner, who became NFL MVP after toiling in the obscurity of the Arena League. Smith hopes to follow a similar path to the NBA.

If a basketball career doesn’t work out, Smith already has his degree in industrial technology and he’s almost finished with his business minor.

But he isn’t ready to count out at least a short career on the court yet.

“Basketball is like air to me I need it to live,” he said.

“Since fourth grade at the Y, it’s been a part of my life. If I could, I would play forever.”