By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jarquez Smith has all the physical tools.
He stands at 6-foot-9, weighs 225 pounds and is blessed with the rare mixture of speed and power that basketball coaches covet.
So as he prepares to enter his sophomore year at Florida State, Smith is focused on the mental side basketball.
The art of, as coach Leonard Hamilton puts it, “putting yourself in the mental frame of mind that every possession that you’re in in practice, that you’re giving 100 percent mentally, emotionally as well as physically.”
“And sometimes,” Hamilton continued, “that’s easier said than done.”
Especially for a freshman.
Smith performed admirably at times last season, averaging 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds in limited action as a reserve.
But he admits that there were times – especially against the Dukes, North Carolina and Syracuses of the world – when the stage of major college basketball was simply overwhelming.
“That’s when it hit me,” Smith said. “I was nervous. I was shaking, sweating as soon as I got on the floor.”
After last season, Smith took a peek at FSU’s roster and came to a startling realization. With seniors Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist gone, he would be the teams’ only returning forward in 2014-15.
But rather than wilt in the face of added responsibility, Smith got proactive. He spent the summer working with FSU assistant coach Stan Jones, studying FSU’s system and honing his skills.
And, of course, focusing on the mental side of things.
“He talked about the mental preparation that I need to have, the work that I need to put in, the focus,” Smith said. “You have to know all the details – every detail. You have to get your mind ready to play. You’ve got to be ready for whatever is thrown at you.”
Smith’s teammates have seen steady progress.
His roommate, senior center Kiel Turpin, said Smith can do “pretty much anything on the floor.”
And junior guard Aaron Thomas said Smith has developed a rapport with FSU’s backcourt, allowing them to trust that he’ll be in the right spot at the right time.
“He’s playing with more confidence,” Thomas said. “I knew he could do it – it was just a matter of when he was able to realize he could do it.”
FSU’s first exhibition game last week likely helped that cause. Smith knocked down six of his eight field goal attempts for 13 points, and also added two rebounds, an assist and a block in FSU’s 95-73 victory over Embry Riddle.
The Seminoles host Belmont Abbey tonight in their final tune-up before the regular season begins Saturday against Manhattan.
“When we went back in the locker room (after the Embry Riddle game), I was like, ‘If you play like that, man, we’re gonna be tough,’” Thomas said.
Hamilton urged caution against inflated expectation – and against comparisons to White, a three-year starter who was among the ACC’s best defenders.
But he’s also plenty optimistic about Smith’s future.
“I think his best basketball is ahead of him. I don’t think he’s come close to scratching the surface,” Hamilton said.
“He has a great attitude, he’s willing to learn and he’s allowing himself to be coached. It’s just a matter of time before he reaches his potential.”