Red on Michael Smith: "He Plays a Lot Like Larry"
The smile on Red Auerbach's face began forming somewhere around the ninth pick. While the rest of the Boston entourage whispered among themselves, or sat perched with phones in their ears and eyes toward the television screen, the Celtics president simply glowed with that knowing look of a man who got precisely what he wanted.
Minutes later, Auerbach took one last satisfied puff on his cigar, cleared his throat and declared his ballclub got its man: 6-foot-10-inch forward Michael Smith of Brigham Young.
"He is probably the best passing big man in the country," said Auerbach. "He's a great passer, very innovative in his shooting and a great scorer.
"The only weakness we could find was in his defense. He is 24 years of age, a very mature guy with brains, and with the coaching staff we have, he can learn that defense."
Auerbach later paid the ambidextrous Smith one of the highest compliments imaginable -- sort of.
"He plays a lot like Larry -- I hope," said Auerbach.
Smith averaged 26.4 points a game for BYU this past season, and also posted a career shooting mark of 50.7 percent. He was a three-time all-league selection in the Western Athletic Conference and is the school's No. 2 career leading scorer behind another former Celtic, Danny Ainge.
"We put a high priority on shooting, regardless of position," said coach Jimmy Rodgers. "We felt it was important to find someone who could hit from the outside.
"He is an athlete. He was an outstanding football player in high school, and was recruited for both sports at BYU. He lays the ball on the floor, and he has both an inside and outside game. He'll be a very good complementary player to people on our team."
With their second-round pick, 40th overall, the Celtics opted for another big man, Yugoslavian Dino Radja, a 6-11, 225-pound forward who played on his country's Olympic team and is reportedly eager to come to the United States.
Boston scout Forddy Anderson, who saw Smith play several times last season, said the rap on the newest Celtic's defense may be somewhat unfounded.
"In terms of the BYU situation," said Anderson, "Ladell Anderson was a very good coach, but everyone knew it was his last year. I think in his last year, Ladell got a little mellow.
"I think he gave the impression to the BYU players, including Mike, 'Don't get in foul trouble.' So I can't agree completely with the fact that he can't play defense.
"I don't think he's been asked to play defense."
Smith, who was reached in a telephone hookup shortly after his selection, termed his selection by the Celtics as "a dream come true" and "the greatest thrill so far in my life."
"This is something I've worked for all my life, and to not only make the NBA, but to make the Celtics, a team I've followed and loved my whole life, is just tremendous," he said.
When asked to address his defensive deficiencies, he said, "All facets of my game will have to improve at this level.
"I not only want to play at this level, I want to play a lot. Obviously, defense is something everyone has to work on. If that's the rap on me, then I have to do something to erase those thoughts, and obviously I'll do that."
Smith is no stranger to the Celtics. At the 1988 Southeast Regional in the NCAA Tournament, Auerbach and scout Rick Weitzman walked away starry-eyed over the big guy's performance. Smith also attended Boston's rookie camp two seasons ago at Brandeis and impressed the staff.
Ever since the Len Bias tragedy, Boston has been especially conscious of scrutinizing the background of potential draft picks. Smith is a Mormon and appears to be as squeaky clean as he looks.
Smith was not one of the top picks invited to draft headquarters in New York, and he said it became a joke between him and the Celtics.
"The Celtics told me they had seen the list and the NBA hadn't invited me," he said. "I said, 'Oh oh, you guys are probably making a mistake.' It was just a little joke we had going."
So what did the 13th pick do to pass the time while his fate was being cast?
"I'm a very family-oriented guy," he said. "I'm here with my wife, and my brother Steve, who is 11 years old, is here attending BYU basketball camp. He wanted me to watch his game tonight, so my parents drove up here. We all considered this a nice way to spend the evening."
As for the Celtics, they insisted they spent the evening just the way they had hoped. If Smith had been gone, Auerbach confirmed Boston would have opted for Stanford's Todd Lichti.
"But we got our guy, believe it or not," he said. "Our guys were unanimous on this choice."
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