When LA Tech seniors Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, Raheem Appleby, andMichale Kyser get together, along with junior Alex Hamilton, the four veterans have a singular focus. "This is the last time and the last chance," Smith said about the three seniors. "We talk about it every day, on and off the court. We all have one goal and one main focus and that is to get to the NCAA Tournament."
Louisiana Tech last made the NCAA Tournament in 1991, when the Bulldogs were led by Anthony "Bear" Dade and future NBA All-Star P.J. Brown. Louisiana Tech also made the Big Dance in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1989. The 1984 and 1985 teams were led by Karl Malone; they beat Fresno State before falling to Houston in 1984 and they beat Pittsburgh and Ohio State before falling to Oklahoma in a classic Sweet Sixteen matchup.
Louisiana Tech has not made the NCAA tournament in 24 years. They brought in Mike White from Ole Miss to be the Head Coach and the first thing he did was bring in a point guard from St. Petersburg, FL.
"I had never heard of Louisiana Tech until Coach May (LA Tech Assistant Coach Dusty May) called me," admitted Speedy Smith. "I feel like I was looked over since I was in a big city. There are a lot of good basketball players in Florida, it might be more looked over because it's a big football state."
With his point guard on board, Coach White went to work changing the culture in Ruston and getting the Bulldogs back to their winning ways. His team won 27 games in 2013 and 29 games in 2014. With the NCAA Tournament always in mind, White tried to beef up the schedule. No one really wants to play a 29 win team, so White did his best to get quality games on the schedule.
Road games against Syracuse, Temple, and N.C. State will help not only LA Tech's RPI, but also their exposure on the east coast. "The most important thing," added Smith, "is trying to take something from each of those games that will help us out better in the long run with conference and making the NCAA Tournament."
Smith knows winning games won't be as easy as simply walking out on the floor and winning because of talent alone. "Any game this year will be harder because of our recent success no matter where it is," said the 6'3" guard. "We know we are going to get everybody's best effort."
To get to where they want to go, the Louisiana Tech veterans will need lead the way. They have a great chemistry on the court. "Once you play with people for so long," said Smith, "you develop a chemistry on when they are going to drive it or shoot it. With me being a point guard, chemistry with your teammates is everything."
With four experienced players coming back, the Bulldogs will need to incorporate nine new players very quickly. Coach White took the team to the Bahamas this summer to play in a few games and get familiar with each other's games. Smith explained: "The trip to the Bahamas was really important because it helped us develop a little bit of chemistry that we needed to take into the upcoming season. It gave them an idea of where we are and where we have to go."
Smith is a pass first point guard, but he has taken on more of the scoring load since his freshman year. He increased his scoring average and field goal percentage every year in Ruston and he averaged 13 points per game over his last five postseason games. At the same time, his assists went from 5.0 per game his sophomore year all the way to 7.7 his junior year.
Does Smith need to take on even more of the scoring load or will it be even more important to get the new players involved in the offense? "I am going to be the same person that I have been," Smith warned. "The only thing I will take on even more of a load is with my leadership. It (getting new players involved) will be very important, not for assists, but just to win games."
Smith admitted he didn't know exactly what he was getting himself into when he signed with Louisiana Tech, and he had no idea the new heights he and his teammates would reach. "No, I never pictured myself having this much success," he admitted. "I just try to be as humble as I can and strive to achieve the goals that I have set for myself."
The main goal is, of course, making it to the NCAA tournament.
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