TERRE HAUTE – It has happened before and likely will again. Yet the moment remains symbolic of an interesting few years for Khristian Smith.
With just a few seconds left and his Southern Illinois team down by one to Indiana State, Jalen Coleman put up a one-handed shot that brushed off the backboard at the Hulman Center and bounded away.
As the horn sounded, Khristian Smith jogged in celebration away from the basket and toward the fans sitting opposite the bench in with his arm in the air to celebrate the Sycamores’ one-point victory.
He also made sure not to leave out his signature expression.
“Anything I can do to keep a smile on my face,” said Smith, who was sporting one following Indiana State’s 66-65 win over the Salukis on February 10th. “Keep things positive.”
That is pretty easy for Smith these days. That wasn’t the case about 18 months earlier, when even the upbeat native of Indianapolis native saw his college basketball career take another unusual turn while at Maine Central Institute. The entire experience led to the moment on that Saturday at the Hulman Center, but the journey had its share of negative moments along the way.
“That was a good trip. It was fun. We won the conference championship,” said Smith of his time at the Maine Prep School, where he went to boost his grades following a solid career a Pike High School where he originally committed to play basketball at Cincinnati.
But when Smith’s grades were still not up to par at the end of the his stay in Maine his options narrowed and his chances to play the following season dimmed. In fact only the Sycamores came calling for Smith’s services as his ability to stay positive was tested.
“Coach (Greg) Lansing was the only coach that still gave me an opportunity to still come here, sit out a year, learn the team, see how the team runs,” said Smith-but part of that would prove to be the most difficult.
In order to play without qualifying academically, Smith would be forced to sit out the 2011-2012 season in Terre Haute and was unable to participate in any team activities during the season.
“He was going to class, he was around in the offices, he worked out on his own, he would lift with our strength coach. That was it,” said Lansing of what Smith could do in regards to the Sycamores’ program.
Having played some sort of basketball competitively for most of his life the change was difficult for Smith who had to watch the team from the stands or on television for the entire season.
“I told myself I was just going to do it. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be during the whole season,” said Smith. “Every game having to sit somewhere watching thinking I could be out there helping the team a little bit.
“Day in and day out it was tough.”
Lansing along with the rest of Smith’s Sycamore teammates watched him go through that time and admired the way he was able to deal with the situation while finding a way to stay positive.
“He gets better every day and his personality and how much he’s matured since I’ve known him as a freshman in high school is unbelievable,” said Lansing of Smith. “He’s a wonderful kid to be around everyday.”
Finally this fall, he was able to be that way literally. Smith joined the team and began work for his first season of college basketball just a few month after turning the age of 21 as he worked to find a spot in the Indiana State rotation for the upcoming year.
“I don’t think I was as enthusiastic in high school just because I didn’t appreciate the game as much as I do now,” said Smith of his energy level this season. “Just because I know that it can be taken away from you at any second.”
Such a mindset has helped Smith come up with productive minutes in the 26 games he’s played so far for the Sycamores. His average of six points and three rebounds a game is important but Smith’s energy along with his attitude have allowed him to be a valuable part of an Indiana State team that is in the race for a NCAA Tournament spot.
“It’s tough to not play for a whole year and then come out and play good minutes for a good team and produce every night and he’s been able to do that for us,” said guard Jake Odum of Smith. “He’s our best communicator on the floor as far as talking on defense and letting people know where to go and as a freshman that’s a good quality to have.”
Having gone through the experience that he did the last two seasons, Smith’s talks with his teammates are simple.
“Keep things positive,” said Smith of how he tries to help the team. “Not all the time people get positive energy so I just try to be that guy that lifts another teammates head up.”
Expect him to have a smile on his face when he does.