There’s a quote on the walls of the stairway leading up to the practice gym at Wake
Forest University. A quote that Orlando Magic point guard Ishmael Smith repeated countless times as he climbed that stairway in the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. A quote he still repeats today, now three years out of college and finding his way in the NBA.
The quote reads: “There are only two types of players, three to six players or six to three players. Which one are you?”
“My coach, Skip Prosser used to ask us that all the time.” Smith explained. “He would tell us that if we want to be the best we have to put in extra time outside of our practices, which were from three o’clock in the afternoon to six in the evening.”
That extra time, from six to three, is the reason why Smith — undrafted out of college — has found a home with the Magic. After practices, he can be seen following behind one of the assistant coaches, listening attentively to whatever lesson is being taught.
“I ask a lot of questions,” Smith said.
Well, this week it was FOX Sports Florida’s turn to ask the questions. A change of pace for the speedy point guard, but just like a ball in his hands, Smith handled it like pro.
FS Florida: Your coach, Skip Prosser, passed away after your freshman year at Wake Forest. It was a devastating loss to the game of basketball and to all who knew him. What do you carry with you from your relationship with Coach Prosser?
Ishmael Smith: Coach P. was one of the greatest guys I’ve ever been around. I always tell people, I would rather have spent one year with Coach Prosser than four years with any other coach in America. That’s how impactful he was in just one year for my life.
He treated everyone with the same love and respect, and that has carried on in me and in the other guys he’s coached. Coach P. was just a special guy. I’m so blessed to have spent time him.
FS Florida: What was it like playing for him?
Smith: Ahh man. Coach brings the best out of you. He was probably the hardest on me than any other coach I’ve ever had. But when people are hard on you it’s because they see something in you that you don’t see in yourself. He’s the one who taught me how to be a student of the game.
When I came to college I was just speed. I was just going to be faster than you. But I had no control, no change of pace. Him and coach Battle, my position coach, they sat me down in the office every day and made me watch clips of guys who have learned how to use their speed to their advantage.
FS Florida: What does that mean, “A student of the game?” Athletes say that a lot.
Smith: Well, for me as a point guard it means a lot more than just knowing your game and what you like to do on the court personally. I have to know all the guys on my team and on opposing teams. I have to know their tendencies, know where they’re comfortable, where they’re uncomfortable.
You have to know time and score situations and how to manage a game. It’s a lot of studying that goes into the game, and I just enjoy all of that. You prepare as much as you can so that when you’re out there on the court you can just play and let your instincts take over.
FS Florida: So since you are a student of the game, let’s test your knowledge a little with a pop quiz. The category will be NBA player nicknames, since you also have a nickname.
Smith: OK, OK, I get it. Ish is my nickname. It’s short for Ishmael.
FS Florida: Yes, you’re Ish. Now, who’s “The Glide?”
Smith: Easy, Clyde Drexler. Clyde the Glide.
FS Florida: Jellybean?
Smith: Kobe. No, no. Kobe’s dad. I’m sorry.
FS Florida: Speedy?
Smith: Speedy Claxton.
FS Florida: The Dream?
Smith: Come on, Hakeem Olajuwon.
FS Florida: Reign Man?
Smith: Reign Man? Dang, I should know this one. I remember the Iceman, George Gervin. The Reign man? I don’t know it.
FS Florida: Shawn Kemp
Smith: Ahhh. Yeah, that’s one I should’ve got. Dang it. What’s next?
FS Florida: Black Magic?
Smith: I heard of Black Magic. Man, what’s his real name? They used to call him Black Magic because he was so smooth. Everybody said when he played on the playground it was like magic. They called him Black Jesus too.
FS Florida: And he has another nickname, “The Pearl.”
Smith: Dang. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. How did I not get that? He went to Winston Salem State! Who’s next?
FS Florida: Grandmama?
Smith: Charlotte Hornets. Larry Johnson.
FS Florida: The Glove?
Smith: Gary Payton
FS Florida: Were those too easy for a basketball guru like yourself?
Smith: I missed two of them. I’m not happy about that. Not happy about that all.
FS Florida: How important is it for you to know the history of the game?
Smith: Well, my father introduced the game to our family. He would show us old Jordan clips, old Isaiah clips, old classic games from back in the ’80s and ’90s. For me, the game has always been fun. I love to go back and watch those guys and see how they played. It’s kind of like knowing your history, and knowing where you came from. Back in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s there was some absolutely great basketball.
FS Florida: Do you think your love for the game also came a little bit from growing up in North Carolina? A lot of people from North Carolina consider it to be a big basketball state.
Smith: Well, yeah we do because we’re certainly not a football state (laughing). We have some good football players to come out of there, but there’s a whole laundry list of basketball greats.
I think being in the heart of ACC country and watching all those college games growing up, it’s hard not to fall in love. I really do feel like North Carolina is a grass roots state for basketball players. But that’s just my opinion though. I’m probably a little biased (laughing).
FS Florida: What’s life like outside of basketball for you?
Smith: If I’m not watching basketball or downloading music, I’m probably spending time with my family. My two older sisters, my brother, and my cousins, those are my closest friends. Growing up, I had the guys I played ball with and we’re all cool, but my family is my heart. I love spending time with them.
FS Florida: So they come down here a lot then?
Smith: Yes! Listen, when I was playing on the west coast it was so hard for them to come visit. Now, it’s like an hour and a half flight. They come visit me all the time and I love it because it’s just so much fun clowning around with them.
FS Florida: Speaking of clowning around, I heard you watch a lot of cartoons. What’s your list of favorites?
Smith: Yes! I love cartoons. I like a lot of them too. I mean, you got the classics like Bugs Bunny. I’m a huge Bugs Bunny guy. Then you got Recess, Doug, Hey Arnold. Hey Arnold was my show, for real.
I miss the days of waking up early on the weekends to sit in front of the TV and watch One Saturday Morning. Honestly, if I’m not watching basketball, I’m either watching cartoons or football.
FS Florida: Would you say you’re a big kid at heart?
Smith: Oh yeah. Definitely.
FS Florida: Why is that?
Smith: Because I’m only 24 (laughing). Honestly, I just like having fun. I don’t ever want to be the type of person that takes life too serious, can’t laugh or have a good time. The only time I’m ever really serious is when I don’t play well. You might not see me smiling, but even in that I’m just thinking “bounce back.” Life goes on. Get in the gym, work on your game and be better the next time you step on the court. I try not to let it steal my joy.
FS Florida: Where does that child-like joy come from?
Smith: The Lord. I’m so serious about that too. My mother and my father instilled in all of us a strong faith at an early age. If I didn’t have that, I’d probably be going crazy right about now.
FS Florida: You’ve already told us you’re not a good cook. So where do you go out to eat?
Smith: Chipotle is the spot! I get the same thing every time too. Yes, let me get three chicken tacos, crunchy, sour cream, cheese, medium sauce, and some chips. Same thing every time and I’m not going to switch it up.
FS Florida: So you’re a creature of habit.
Smith: Yeah, I think that’s what it is. It might not be the healthiest choice, but I am so used to doing the same things every day. Playing basketball all your life, you get into this regimented schedule. You just get comfortable. Like I know after the game I’m going to Steak n’ Shake, every time. Maybe if I could cook I would try to switch it up, but I can’t cook.
FS Florida: Are you like that about the music you listen to before the games also?
Smith: Yeah I am. I always have to listen to something chill before the game, something R&B, to calm me down. But, the funny thing is I have it blasting in the car (laughing). And I only live a few minutes away from the arena so I’m literally just riding out, music turned up, just getting in my zone.
FS Florida: How about what you wear? Is it always the same jacket, same lucky socks?
Smith: No, no, I try to switch it up a little bit when it comes to my style. I would say that’s probably the area I’m the most likely to try something new.
FS Florida: So how would you describe your style then?
Smith: I like to say I dress fitted and sophisticated (laughing). I don’t know though, maybe that’s not what other people think when they look at me.
FS Florida: Who would you say is the most stylish guy on the team?
Smith: J.J. Redick. J.J. can dress. He’s always trying to look his best too. See right now I have on sweat pants. J.J. would never go out the house in sweat pants. You’re never going to see that from him. But, you see how I do it is, yes I have on the sweats, but to make up for that, I kill them with the shoe game.
FS Florida: And what’s your favorite shoe?
Smith: I like a lot of shoes. But I’ll go with the Air Maxes because that’s what I got on my feet right now.
FS Florida: What’s your most memorable basketball moment?
Smith: You know, I’ve been blessed to have a lot of memorable moments. In college I hit some game winners, but I’d have to say my most memorable moment isn’t actually a moment. It’s just a time period in my life.
Like basketball in high school is so special to me, that time of my life, because it was truly like a family thing. My family came to all the games. It’s you and all the boys you grew up with working out every day trying to be the best you can and trying to win. Those were some of the best times of my life right there.