Steve Smith looked at the stat sheet handed out by The Basketball Tournament staff following his 20th and Olney team’s win over Max’s All-Stars. Smith, the elder of the team by 10 years or so, was caught by one statistic on the paper. The 32-year old had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
“You’re never too old for a double-double,” Smith said as he chuckled.
Smith fit in just fine with the La Salle group that led the Explorers to the 2013 Sweet 16 run that captivated the city of Philadelphia. The chemistry that La Salle had that year seemed to translate to the court like it never left.
It was fun to be out there with the fans and everything,” Smith said. “It really did feel like the old Gola again. That was a long time ago for me, but it felt great to be out there.”
“It felt like we were at the Gola tonight,” Tyrone Garland said. “We had a lot of fans come out and support us. Me and Tyreek [Duren] were talking about it before the game. It felt like we were back in school. It was pretty fun.”
Whether it was Jerrell Wright muscling his way to the basket on an isolation down low or Garland streaking through the lane for an acrobatic lay in, it felt like old times for many Explorers both on the court and in the crowd.
“It brought back memories when we were all back in school, seeing everyone out there cheering again. It kind of felt like that Sweet 16 game,” Duren said.
The Basketball Tournament gives players from all over the country a chance to reunite with their playing buddies from their college days and play one more time together. Some guys still play at a high level, some do not. But it gives everyone a chance to relive.
“Obviously it is always fun coming back to guys you have been with for a while and have that chemistry with, can have fun with and joke around,” Steve Zack, who played for the Sixers in the Vegas Summer League, said. “During Vegas it is just a bunch if guys who are brought in a week before you go out.”
“You don’t really know watch other so you’re not a close knit group so like Steve [Smith] said, it is not that kind of fun when you’re there,” he added. “It is obviously fun playing there and having the experience, but it is not playing with your boys you played with for four years.”
The La Salle graduates laughed and joked throughout the press conference and seemed genuinely happy to simply be around each other. Their elder took the tournament as an opportunity to coach them up off the court.
“You know they watch it right? Get your press conference skills up,” Smith said to Zack during the presser.
Smith started his pro career with the Sixers in 2006-07, and has since bounced around playing professionally in Europe. He knows what it takes to make a living playing the game he loves, and wants to share that knowledge with those who left his beloved program in a good place.
“In all seriousness, now that these guys have moved on and Tyreek and Tyrone have one year of pro experience, it is not so much fun anymore at the next level,” Smith explained. “It is still fun, but now you have business. It’s your livelihood.”
For now, it is all about fun. 20th and Olney will take on Boeheim’s Army on Sunday at 4:15 to move on to the Super 17, the equivalent of the Sweet 16 round in the NCAA tournament.
Maybe there is just a little magic leftover from 2013 to propel the former Explorers to Chicago, even if it is in a tangible form and named Steve Smith.