Ryne Smith had a game yesterday and the day before, and has another one today.
Yes, Smith's No. 16 Purdue Boilermakers play at Michigan tomorrow and at home against Ohio State on Saturday. But as Smith, the Whitmer graduate and Purdue freshman, says: "I look at practice right now as my games."
Smith, buried under a bevy of talented guards, has appeared in 14 games for the 21-6 Boilermakers and in just five Big Ten contests. His attitude, though, is as strong as his outside shot that gives Purdue's starters fits during practice.
"If I'm not playing, I've got to get these guys ready," Smith said in a telephone interview. "Last year I took pride in how I played. This year I take pride in preparing our starters for the next game."
Smith has scored 19 points this year, including six against Ball State on Dec. 9. The son of longtime Whitmer basketball coach Bruce Smith, Ryne averaged 18 points, five assists, and three rebounds last year en route to a second-team All-Ohio selection.
Purdue coach Matt Painter described Smith this week as a "guy who can really shoot the basketball." He said the upcoming offseason looms large for Smith, who will try to crack a lineup that figures to return the top six players in terms of minutes from this season.
"That is the challenge for guys that don't play or play sparingly, is to use the offseason to try to improve some things and leapfrog some guys in front of them," Painter said. "Ryne's a competitive kid and that's what he wants to do."
Smith is indeed looking forward to earning more playing time - he's talking about adding weight to his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame and facets to his game to complement his outside shooting - but is not ready to write off this season yet. He is excited about having any kind of role on a team that is currently one game out of first in the Big Ten and is gearing up for conference and NCAA tourney runs.
The Boilermakers finish the regular season in East Lansing, Mich., for a showdown against first-place Michigan State. The Big Ten tourney follows in Indianapolis, followed by the wildly popular NCAA tournament, where Purdue is predicted as a No. 4 seed in the West Region by ESPN's Joe Lunardi.
"It's an awesome feeling," Smith said of his first stretch run in college hoops. "Last year I was sitting on the couch watching it all and this year's it's a reality."
Smith said he will have 10 family members and friends in the stands when the Boilermakers travel to Ann Arbor tomorrow night. And on Saturday he'll see another familiar face when William Buford and Ohio State arrive in West Lafayette, Ind.
Buford, the Buckeyes' freshman standout and a Libbey grad, squared off against Smith often in City League action and was his teammate on past teams.
Smith said it hasn't been difficult at all to see Buford shine as a freshman while he waits his turn at Purdue. And Smith saw Buford excel firsthand, when he had 22 points in the Buckeyes' 80-72 win over the Boilermakers on Feb. 3.
"I think it's awesome," Smith said. "I told our guys the last time we played them that hey, we've got to get on him. He's a good player. It's cool to see what he's doing."
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