New Mexico junior Kendall Williams saw nothing but daylight. A hesitation dribble shook Christian Webster ’13, and Williams bolted to the basket. With four and a half minutes to go, Williams’ third-seeded Lobos were down six to the upstart 14th-seeded Harvard Crimson.
The Mountain West Player of the Year had had a nightmare evening to that point, with nearly as many turnovers—two—as points and assists combined—four. If he could get going, the comeback was not only within reach, but likely.
Williams never got that far. In two steps, then-sophomore center Kenyatta Smith was in the air, swatting the shot away. Less than a minute later, Smith was icing the game from the charity stripe, a 67 percent free throw shooter knocking down both to put Harvard up six.
“This was his time,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker at the time. “This was why I recruited him, to be this kind of player.”
That was then.
This past Sunday, Smith logged his first minutes of the season. Hampered by a foot injury, the junior had sat out the first three months of the season, watching his teammates struggle against intimidating front lines.
First, it was Colorado’s 6’10” Josh Scott and 6’7” Xavier Johnson leading the Buffaloes to a 70-62 win—a game in which the Crimson was outrebounded by 17. Then it was University of Connecticut’s hulking frontcourt of 6’9” DeAndre Daniels, 6’10” Tyler Olander, and 7’0” Amida Brimah holding Harvard to 32 percent shooting from inside the arc during a 61-56 Husky win.
Medically cleared to play Sunday against Dartmouth for the first time all year, Smith came on the floor with the Crimson up 32. In his two minutes of play, just one thing showed up in the box score—a miss on his trademark hook shot that was let loose too late and missed the rim entirely.
This is now.
As Smith comes back from injury, both he and the coaching staff have indicated that he will take it as it comes. Extreme caution is the norm in the wake of the NBA’s re-injury bug, which has taken out stars like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook who came back too early.
However, heading down the stretch, this year’s Crimson team needs what Smith can offer. This weekend alone, the squad will face the Quakers’ 6’11” Darien Nelson-Henry and 6’8” Henry Brooks, and Princeton’s 6’10” Will Barrett. Senior Kyle Casey is an excellent defender in his own right, but he is not Smith, a prototypical back-to-the-basket post player and rim protector. In the past, Smith has shown the ability to carry programs to unforeseen heights, and the team will hope for history to repeat itself this season.
THE TALL BOY COMING IN
When Smith first enrolled in Flintridge Preperatory School in La Cañada Flintridge, CA. as a seventh grader, it was without a hint of reclaim. Flintridge coach Garrett Ohara remembers hearing “there was a tall boy coming in.”
At that point, Flintridge had yet to win a division championship or produce a Division I basketball player. It excelled at academics, not athletics. Before he was Smith’s coach, Ohara was his pre-algebra teacher.
“There were other, better schools he could have gone to in the area…higher level basketball schools,” Ohara said. “For him and his mother to decide to come to Flintridge demonstrated that he was very serious about his academics.”