Dayton’s Scoochie Smith against Rhode Island on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Tom Archdeacon: How Scoochie found his vibe in Dayton

Senior guard could set school record for games played

He’s now living up to his name and, among other things, the scars have stopped.

When he was young — and insisting his family call him Dayshon rather than the nickname his grandfather had given him as a toddler — Scoochie Smith got those souvenirs beneath his eyes.

The scar beneath his right eye came the day he ignored the orders of his aunt, Wendy Blount, and went to an early-morning basketball practice.

“It was one of those days where I got into trouble,” the Dayton Flyers senior point guard from the Bronx recalled with a smile the other day. “I was, I want to say, in fifth grade and we had basketball practice at 7 a.m. before school started. My aunt told me NOT to go. But being who I was — I loved basketball — I went anyway.

“During practice I gave one of my teammates a pass and he laid the ball up. Right then I cut under the basket to go back on defense and we just ran into each other. They had to glue the cut shut.

“And my aunt let me know that’s what you get when you don’t listen.”

As for the small scar beneath his left eye, he said that came because he was at school:

“We were playing tag — freeze tag — and we both ran up to tag the same person and we ran into each other.”

ARCHDEACON: No ordinary birthday for Pollard, Flyers

When you hear such stories, Scoochie sounds like a kid who was a little reckless, a little clumsy and sometimes not quite in control of his body.

Eventually his body changed and so did that attitude about the nickname.

He had hated it because he said kids would drop the “s” and tease him. But once that stopped, he relented:

“I couldn’t get away from that name so I began to accept it.”

Dayton’s Scoochie Smith against Rhode Island on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: Staff Writer

His grandfather, George Blount, passed away a while back and Scoochie said he never learned the story of how the name originated. He said when he was in high school he once found a definition of the word online:

“It said to be annoying or dance a lot. I know I was definitely one of the two and maybe both.”

He certainly is both now as he leads the 12-3 Flyers this season.

He often annoys rival point guards or especially opposing big men who, seeing the 6-foot-2 guard drive the lane, plan to slap his shot back toward New York.

Next thing they are being embarrassed as Scoochie turns himself into Gumby, bending his body at weird angles and sending a scoop shot or a high, soft-floater or some other non-traditional toss past their outstretched arms and into the basket for a hard-to-believe two points.

And then there are his long-range 3s, which he’ll often punctuate with a signature move of celebration.

Last year he did the Dab, a hip hop dance move that looks like a guy putting his face into the crook of his elbow to muffle a sneeze.

This year — at the prompting of Flyers walk-on Joey Gruden — he’s changed his dance card.

For a short while he did a move he entitled “Call Joe From Long Distance.”

After hitting a 3-point shot, he pretended to hold a phone to his ear. Three of his fingers were upraised to signal the trey.

“On the bench, Joey would pick up the phone,” Scoochie said. “We had fun with it, but it didn’t last long and I found another celebration.”

Last Tuesday at St. Bonaventure — after back-to-back threes — he did what he calls his “Kodak Dance,” something originated by Florida rapper Kodak Black.

“It’s kind of hard to do on the move,” he admitted “But I think the people got the gist of it.”

And at least he didn’t run into anybody.

Dayton’s Scoochie Smith against Rhode Island on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: Staff Writer

Big-time moxie

When it comes to the inspiration for his brief celebratory moments, he said:

“I just go with the vibe.”

And since he joined the Flyers four seasons ago, the vibe has been good.

A handful of players from New York City have worn a Dayton uniform over the years and three especially have stood out.

Roger Brown, the playground sensation from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, was arguably the greatest basketball talent ever to play for the Flyers.

He starred on the 1960-61 freshman team, then was over-zealously targeted by the NCAA for his high school friendship with Jack Molinas, who soon after was involved in a major game-fixing scandal.

Dayton let Brown go — even though he was never linked to any of Molinas’ fixing schemes — and he went on to star in the American Basketball Association and three years ago was enshrined posthumously in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In the early 1980s, Roosevelt Chapman arrived at UD from Westinghouse High in Brooklyn and went on to become the all-time career scorer for the men’s program with 2,233 points.

Now comes Scoochie and if he stays healthy this year, he could surpass Chris Johnson’s record of 138 games, the most by anyone in a Flyers uniform.

With Friday night’s 67-64 victory over Rhode Island, Scoochie now has played in 121 games. He would need to play three games in the postseason to top Johnson.

He’s one of six Flyers to have scored 1,000 points in his career (he has 1,056) and dish out 400 assists (414).

Should Scoochie and the Flyers make the NCAA Tournament, they will have done so four years in a row, something no other UD group has done.

Scoochie is one of the team’s co-captains — a unanimous choice, said teammate Kendall Pollard — and leads the Flyers in minutes played and assists. He’s tied with Pollard for second in scoring at 13.9 points per game and is second in free-throw percentage and steals.

“The thing I love about him most is that he’s not afraid in the big games, the big moments,” UD coach Archie Miller said. “He’s at his best in some of those situations where you really need a guy to step up and make something happen.”

That was never more evident than Friday night when he took over the late stages and controlled the basketball. With 21 points and six assists against one turnover, it was his best effort of the season.

RELATED: Archie Miller raves about Rhode Island

There have been many other big moments in his career.

This season he led all scorers with 20 points against Alabama, added 16 against No. 17 St. Mary’s and 18 against Northwestern.

Last season he had a career-high 29 points in a crucial game with VCU and added 14 points and 11 assists against Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinal.

As a sophomore he averaged 12.7 points a game in the Flyers’ three NCAA Tournament games.

Allen Griffin, the UD assistant who led Scoochie’s recruitment and a fellow New York City schoolboy star himself, said the big-moment moxie goes back to Smith’s Bronx roots:

“Part of that confidence comes from the bright lights you play in when you come up in a place like New York City. Whether you’re playing at some of the schools that have big reputations or even in the parks, you have to live up to that standard night in and night out or they’ll let you know, big time.”

Dayton’s Scoochie Smith against Rhode Island on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: Staff Writer

A match for UD

Scoochie grew up in the Edenwald Houses, the largest public housing project in the Bronx.

While the place earned a reputation over the years for its high crime, Scoochie said he grew up in a loving environment with his grandmother, Mary Blount, and his aunt Wendy.

His grandmother is a retired school crossing guard who “just loves kids,” he said:

“She’s just a loving person and everyone in the projects comes to visit her. Everybody calls her Grandma and even when I’m not there my friends still go to see her. My uncles’ friends go, too. And my aunts’. They all pay her a visit and show their love.”

Whether it was his grandmother’s reputation or his own as a budding basketball star, Scoochie said he was “protected” in Edenwald:

“If there was going to be trouble or someone was going to fight, they made sure I had no part of it.”

Everyone knew Scoochie for his hoops passion.

“Basketball is 24/7 when you’re a kid in New York,” he said with a smile. “Kids go play basketball in the park at 7 in the morning before school.

“After school, they come back in their uniforms and start playing no matter what. They can be rippin’ their school pants and getting cussed out by their parents, but they want to play. In the cold they wear two hoodies. One of my AAU teams — the Bronx Kings — we practiced outside when I was just 10.”

Although rail thin then, Scoochie had begun to make a name for himself at Brother Rice High in Harlem when the school closed in 2011 after his junior season. He had planned to go to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, but when the school wouldn’t reclassify him as a junior and then brought in another point guard, he decided to go elsewhere.

An AAU coach guided him toward Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut, where his mom lives. He boarded at the school, played two seasons and improved his game.

At that same time UD was looking for a point guard.

Kevin Dillard was graduating, recruit Jevon Thomas had de-committed to go to Kansas State and that would leave only Khari Price in the fold.

Griffin called Adrian Autry, an assistant coach at his alma mater Syracuse, and got a heads-up on Scoochie, who had played in the Orange’s Elite Camp.

Autry thought Scoochie was too skinny for Syracuse and believed he could be a find for the Flyers. Griffin went to see him play and said he was impressed with his basketball IQ, his ability to shoot and his quickness with the ball.

He called Miller and said: “This is our guy.”

That began an intense recruitment, especially when Scoochie’s profile increased and he was being pursued by the likes of Illinois, Providence, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure and several other mid-major schools in the East.

Griffin laughed: “I called him so much that at one point he said, ‘Coach, listen we’re good. You’re callin’ me more than my girlfriend does. Would you relax.’

“It’s just that I knew what he meant to us at that moment and, well, look how it’s turned out.”

Scoochie and UD were a perfect fit, he said, because Miller was able “to sell him on a vision.”

Griffin said Scoochie had “a chip on his shoulder” after being bypassed by some of the big programs “and I knew that he could co-exist with Coach Miller’s chip. The two of them together — it just worked.”

N.Y. state of mind

Although he’s now spent four seasons at Dayton, Scoochie, who has gained 20 pounds as a Flyer, said he hasn’t become a Midwesterner.

“Oh no, I’m still New York 100 percent,” he laughed.

He said when he and his teammates fly back for a game at Fordham he gets “overly focused … because I know I’m coming home and have to perform for those folks.

“And if I’m just coming back to visit, I get really excited.”

He knows he’ll be seeing his family and might be stopping by one of the parks where he once played. And he’ll be sure to hit the buffet at Jacob’s Soul Food Restaurant on Malcolm X Blvd. in Harlem.

“I get salmon, rice, oxtail, fried chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, yams. I fill the plate up maybe three pounds worth,” he grinned.

Does he leave room for sweet potato pie?

“Naah, by then my plate is already costing about $22,” he laughed.

What he especially loves about home, he said, is the buzz night and day on the street:

“I just love going outside at any time and feeling like something is going on. That gives me energy. I hate it when I’m someplace and I walk out and there’s nobody on the street. When it’s 10 and everything is closed up.”

Dayton?

He smiled: “It’s different here, but it’s a good for me for a lot of reasons. We’ve had more success than any of the other schools who recruited me. And you can’t beat playing in front of 13,000 people every night.

“There’s my teammates. The education I’m getting. And one day I want to settle back in New York. There’s a big UD alumni base there.

“All of it with Dayton has been good.”

So much so that he even talked about how entertaining it would be for friends he brought here from the Bronx:

“I could take them to a game and let them experience that and then, because they like to have fun, I’d take them down to the Student Ghetto afterward for the party. I think that’s all they’d need to see here. That sounds like a real fun day to me.”

Like he said, it’s all about going with the vibe.

You just have to know how to find it.

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