- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

It's not easy getting Michael Jordan on the phone. So what did the folks at the Waterfront Grill in Monroe, La., do Wednesday night when Jordan called to congratulate local hero Mike Smith upon being drafted 35th overall by the Washington Wizards?

They hung up on the Wizards' president of basketball operations, that's what.

"There was just a whole lot of excitement, and the place was real noisy," Todd Newman, Smith's agent, said of the restaurant where the draft was being televised. "It was a misunderstanding. When Mr. Jordan called back, he called on [Smith's] cell phone. [Smith] apologized, and they just continued to talk about things."

It takes some prodding to get Smith to say much at all. The 6-foot-8 small forward is not much on words. However, he is not bashful about the skills he brings to the table and hopes to display next season for the Wizards.

"I have worked hard to get here, to get drafted," Smith said. "I know there are some things that I do well. I can shoot the ball, and I can get to the basket. I also know that I have to work on my defense a lot to get it up to the [NBA] level. I'm ready to go in and show 'em something."

Smith, who played the last two years at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, feels an obligation to prove that players from the Southland Conference and particularly Louisiana-Monroe not exactly a basketball hotbed can play in the NBA.

Louisiana-Monroe does have a history of producing NFL quarterbacks. Former Washington Redskin Stan Humphries attended the school, and so did Bubby Brister (Minnesota) and Doug Pederson (Philadelphia).

Smith, on the other hand, is the first Louisiana-Monroe basketball player to be drafted since the Atlanta Hawks selected Terry Martin in the fifth round of the 1984 draft. Smith, who had been projected by some as a possible late first-round pick, failed to become the second Louisiana-Monroe player selected in the first round.

That honor belongs to Calvin Natt, who was selected eighth overall by the New Jersey Nets in 1979. The Indiana Pacers drafted his brother, Kenny, in the second round of the 1980 draft. Calvin Natt is considered the best player in the school's history. During the 1984-85 season, with the Denver Nuggets, he was voted onto the All-Star team and averaged 23.3 points and almost nine rebounds.

Smith caught the attention of the Wizards at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational predraft camp. Playing three games with other players from more recognizable programs, Smith averaged 19.3 points, grabbed 6.7 rebounds and shot 57 percent from the field. But what caught Washington's attention was his accuracy from the 3-point line (11-for-16) ). Smith scoffs at the notion that not being from a basketball powerhouse should be held against him. In fact, he sees that as motivation to excel.

"My feelings are that if you can play, you can play," Smith said. "It doesn't really matter what level of competition you played against. They found me, and I come from a small school. So what? When you go out on the court you are representing yourself. I don't feel intimidated or anything like that.

"And another thing," Smith continued, "I got picked by Michael Jordan. That says a lot. You can't be too disappointed if he picks you."

Jordan selected Smith in hopes of giving the Wizards more athleticism at the small forward position. Juwan Howard started there most of last season, but he prefers to play more of a post-up game. In fact, Howard would prefer to play at power forward.

Backup small forward Tracy Murray is a jump shooter who has trouble creating his own shot. Jordan feels that Smith will bring some versatility because "he can attack the basket and is explosive."

"I think they need a small forward," said Smith, who also played some shooting guard in college. "I think I can come in and make an impact."

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