Jabari Smith could be the first pick in the NBA draft, but after one of the most dismal outings of his career Sunday, he wasn’t ready to announce plans to leave Auburn.
Smith said he hadn’t yet made up his mind if he’ll enter the draft after a freshman season that saw him blossom into one of the country’s most ferocious scorers. But his comments in the aftermath of No. 2-seeded Auburn’s 79-61 loss to Miami in the second round of the NCAA tournament certainly sounded like an ending.
“I feel like if I had to make a decision a thousand more times, I wouldn’t choose nowhere else but Auburn,” Smith said. “It was fun.”
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Smith is projected to go No. 2 overall in the 2022 NBA draft, according to the latest mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz.
If it was Smith’s final game with the Tigers, it’s not one he’ll remember fondly.
Against an attacking Miami defense, Smith finished just 3-of-16 shooting for 10 points and the Tigers were outscored by 20 with Smith on the court.
“I had some looks that just didn’t fall, but credit to them, just making them tough,” Smith said. “Keeping bodies on me, being physical with me, sending two people. They defended well as a team.”
Miami frustrated Smith by sending a cadre of veteran guards — led by junior Jordan Miller — to attack the ball, consistently making Smith force uncomfortable shots. It was a game plan the Hurricanes said they’d strategized perfectly.
“Jabari is a very talented kid, you can tell that,” Miami forward Sam Waardenburg said. “He’s a great catch-and-shoot guy, and we felt like, if we were able to get him to put the ball on the ground, we were at our best there. If he turned his back to any of us, we were going after it.”
Auburn’s frontcourt, expected to be a strength for the team against guard-heavy Miami, offered little. In addition to Smith’s struggles, Walker Kessler played just 13 minutes and he wasn’t on the court for the final six minutes of the game. Head coach Bruce Pearl said that after Kessler got in early foul trouble, Auburn preferred a lineup that featured Smith and Jaylin Williams instead.
After the game, Pearl still credited Smith with helping build one of the school’s best teams in years, even if the Tigers’ tournament run came to an early end.
“He’s such a great competitor and such a great teammate,” Pearl said. “He’s not selfish. He’s hardworking. He’s disciplined. He’s a pro. He had a great experience at Auburn, and he made history at Auburn. Obviously, I’m very, very proud of him.”
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