Athletes are students, too

Jamar Smith runs laps during a team practice. While most college students are using the summer to relax, Smith and the rest of his teammates are busy preparing for the 2006-07 season. Amelia Moore

By Jason Grodsky

Summer is supposed to be a time of relaxation, a time to sleep in, reunite with friends and take a vacation.

But for college athletes like Illinois basketball’s sophomore guard Jamar Smith, the summer is no time for relaxation and especially not a time to sleep.

Instead it’s time to get down to work and prepare for the upcoming season.

“Summer has been good, but a lot of hard work,” Smith said. “I’ve been waking up early and doing weights and getting my body ready for next season.”

While most typical college students will wake up around 10 a.m. or so to start their day, Smith is up and in the gym by 7 a.m. to lift weights with the team, and on days where he doesn’t have to lift, he’s up around 8 a.m. to work out on his own.

Then it’s off to class at 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. where he is enrolled in an animal science course and a human development course for the summer.

“They are pretty much classes that fill requirements but still allow me to have time to focus on playing ball,” Smith said.

Once classes come to an end, Smith takes a little break with a nap or few games of spades with his teammates, a card game that Smith says the team plays everyday as just a way to relax after a hard day of working out and classes.

After some rest and relaxation, a re-energized Smith heads back to the gym for open gym work outs with his teammates.

Once open gym is finished, Smith and senior teammate Rich McBride make their way to their summer job at O’Brien’s Car Dealership. A job set up for Smith and McBride by Illini assistant coach Wayne McClain.

“Coach McClain knew someone there and he set Rich (McBride) and I set up there for the summer,” Smith said. “I just go introduce myself to the customers out on the lot looking at cars and try to sell them. I’m making pretty good money and selling a few cars so it’s not too bad.”

After working the lot at O’Brien’s until close, it’s right back to the gym for Smith. This time he focuses on various aspects of his game like ball handling and mid-range jump shots in order to become a better all-around player.

“I thought I did OK last season,” Smith said. “But there were a lot of things I didn’t do though. I just think this year I want to come out and show people that I have a complete

game and that I can do more than just shoot three-pointers.”

In his first season wearing the Orange and Blue as a true freshman, Smith earned a Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection averaging eight points per game off the bench for the Illini. He also led the Big Ten in three-point field goal shooting at 48.2 percent.

With his success as a freshman, Smith received a large amount of attention from the media and his classmates, attention that wasn’t always wanted and led Smith to develop some bad habits.

“I’m thankful for all the attention, but it does kind of annoy me sometimes,” Smith said.

“When I started off playing really well the media gave me a lot of attention and then I started to feed off of that in the wrong way. I stopped working as hard as I used to and started to get a big head. Now I know that no matter what you do or how good of a season you have you have to keep working.”

With his new mentality in place, Smith is back working hard and doesn’t mind the attention fans give him and knows its all part of the game.

“It’s still hard for me to just go out somewhere and relax now because you have a lot of people who come up to you and want autographs,” Smith said. “But there’s nothing wrong with that because when I was growing up we would see players like Frank Williams and I would want their autograph.”

To escape from the autograph requests during the summer, Smith and the rest of the Illini continue to hit the court in hopes of building team chemistry and becoming familiar with each other’s style of play.

“Right now everyone is just focused on getting our team chemistry on the right track,” Smith said.

“Everyone gets along, but now it’s the challenge of getting to know how to play with each other because it’s going to be a different lineup than last year. In practice we are used to playing against each other and now we have to learn to play with each other.”

If the Illini can learn to play together and find a way to replace the leadership and scoring of the two winningest players in Illini basketball history – Dee Brown and James Augustine – they should be fine.

For that to happen and the Illini to climb back on top in the Big Ten, Smith knows he’s going to have to step up and show people that his game is more than draining shots from beyond the arc.

“Our first goal for next season is to win the Big Ten Championship and bring that back home,” Smith said. “To do that I have to prove to people that I have a complete game because I do, but I just didn’t show that last season.”

  • Meet Jamar Smith

  • Hometown: Peoria, Ill.
  • High School: Richwoods
  • Birthday: April 7, 1987
  • Height: 6 foot 3 inches
  • Weight: 175 pounds
  • Position: Shooting guard
  • 2006-07 statistics
  • Games/Started: 32/0
  • Avg. Points Per Game: 8.0
  • 3-pt. shooting: 48.2 percent

Information from fightingillini.com