But Smith was nowhere to be found. After being named the best incoming freshman in the Ancient Eight by ESPN’s Paul Biancardi, he saw the floor for a total of 17 minutes as a rookie.
Classmates Saunders, Moundou-Missi, and Corbin Miller all averaged at least 10 minutes a game as Smith struggled. He attempted just one field goal all season In Ivy League play, he saw three minutes in 14 games.
“I think the physicality and the pace of the game frustrated him,” Ohara said. “Being away from home…there are a lot of [new] factors into being at Harvard.”
However, heading into his sophomore year, Smith became the starting center with the departures of Keith Wright ’13 and Casey. He headed an all-sophomore frontcourt, playing as the lone center in a four-guard lineup.
The initial returns were mixed. He had eight points, eight rebounds, five blocks, and three assists in just 21 minutes against MIT. He and Moundou-Missi combined for six blocks in the next game, holding the University of Massachusetts to just 38 percent shooting in a 67-64 loss.
After his second consecutive 20-minute outing against the Minutemen, however, he got that much time just once in the next 18 outings—a zero-point, three-turnover effort in a seven-point loss to Vermont.
But things turned around for the big man, and against Penn and Princeton, Smith finally got his big break. With the Crimson reeling from its first league loss—a 15-point blowout at Columbia—Amaker put Smith in the starting lineup for the contest against the Quakers.
The then-sophomore seized the moment and ran with it, putting forth 20 points, nine rebounds, and a program-record 10 blocks in a 19-point win over the school he had spurned.
The next night, he proved Penn wasn’t a fluke, posting 14 points, seven rebounds, and another six blocks, going perfect from the field and the free-throw line. The Crimson beat Princeton by 12.
Afterwards, Smith was brutally honest about how playing not to lose, instead of playing to win, had hampered him in prior situations.
“My goal before was to not mess up,” Smith said. “Now it’s just to let the game flow and do what I do best: rebound, block shots. Luckily, the rest has come with it.”
For the rest of the campaign, Smith started. If he was doing what he did best, he did it better than nearly anyone in the nation.
His season averages of 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks don’t look impressive on paper; account for the minutes played and Smith blocked 5.8 shots per 40 minutes—better than first-round pick Nerlens Noel, second-round pick Jeff Withey, and third in the nation.
“The Penn-Princeton weekend was when it exploded for him,” Amaker said. “He changed our team.”