By Rick Bozich

WDRB Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — For most basketball lifers, the gold standard is playing in Madison Square Garden, the Staples Center and TD Garden in Boston. You know the venues.
 

Jerry Smith gets that. He scored seven points in five NBA games six years ago — and will never forget a millisecond of it.

But after leaving the NBA in 2012, Smith has been on the most delightful  basketball odyssey of his life. Madison Square Garden is glorious but not as unforgettable as visiting and competing in Paris, Milan, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Rome and Jerusalem.

“I visited the Eiffel Tower with my daughter and the Berlin Wall with my mother,” Smith said. “I’ve floated in the Dead Sea.

“I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’ve really enjoyed this journey I’ve been on. I know I’m going to miss it when I’m done playing.”

Smith is not done yet. He’s 30, eight years removed from scoring his 1,203rd and final point for the University of Louisville. He intends to play at least three or four more seasons in Europe, reporting overseas next month, likely to France or another season in Turkey.

After that? Smith wants to coach. College guys, not pro guys.

“NBA level, I wouldn’t want to coach that,” Smith said with a laugh. “Too many crazy guys. College is a little more my speed. My experience dealing with pros, they’re not the easiest to work with.”

But, first, Smith is facing The $2 Million question:

Can he help his team take the winner-take-all first prize in The Basketball Tournament?

Yep, the first prize is $2 million for the winning team.

Second prize?

Don’t ask. All you’ll get is reimbursement for your flight, hotel and meals.

Smith knows. His team, Team Challenge ALS, finished second in 2017, losing the final game by three points. He did not come back this summer for a free room and a burger.

Smith is one of several former local college players participating in The Basketball Tournament. Former U of L guard Preston Knowles is expected to team with former Indiana players Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey with Armored Athlete. Another former Card, Chane Behanan, is a member of Tim Thomas Playaz. Two other former IU guys — Christian Watford and Maurice Creek-- are also entered.

“If we win, I’ll earn over $100,000,” Smith said. “If we don’t win it all, you get a handshake and a good job. It’s brutal. You’ve got to take it all or go home.”

It’s a 72-team, single elimination tournament in its fifth season with substantial coverage on the ESPN platforms. It’s open to anybody without an NBA contract. Players form their own teams and raise sponsorship money.

Smith’s team, the top seed in the West, will play its opening games in Los Angeles this weekend, starting  with the 5:40 p.m. tip Saturday against the Fort Hood Wounded Warriors. You can watch the game from California State University on ESPN3.

Expect Smith to be a major contributor. He shot nearly 41 percent from distance this season while averaging 19 points for his professional team in Balikesir, a city of about 330,000 in central Turkey. Three times Smith has made European all-star teams.

The NBA?

Smith chased that dream for two seasons, losing weight, improving his ball-handling and learning to play point guard. As I noted early, he earned a promotion from the Nets, experienced five NBA games and made a decision.

Making a life playing pro basketball in Europe was a better long term play for him and his family, which now includes his girlfriend and two daughters, than riding buses in the the G-League.

“My main thing was that I wanted to play run the NBA,” Smith said. “I just wanted to do it. Once I got the opportunity to actually live that dream, I was fine.

“From that point on I kind of wanted to set myself up for how I was going to live when I was done playing.

“I got to live that I way. I got to experience it. But If I can’t get a guarantee in the NBA where I can make X Y or Z money, I’m not going to sit here and pout about  it I’m going to suck it up, try to get better and try to make a living for myself, however that can come.

“I wasn’t going to be a guy who played six years in the D League and I made $60,000 in six years. I wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t getting anything out of it

“Once I had the opportunity to go to Europe and make a nice amount of money I was going to get on with it, You meet a lot of good people along the way.”

He’ll get make to making more memories this fall. First, there is $2 million to chase.

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