Younger Smits eager to forge own basketball identity

The Associated Press file photoPurdue center Isaac Haas (44) stops the drive of Valparaiso center Derrik Smits (21) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Dec. 7, 2017.

INDIANAPOLIS - Butler graduate transfer center Derrik Smits said he was too young to remember when his father, Rik Smits, patrolled the paint as the 7-foot-4 starting center for the Indiana Pacers

Rik retired from the NBA before Derrik’s fourth birthday, leaving Derrik to need to watch YouTube videos of highlights of dad’s 12-year career in Indiana.

“He’s been my role model,” Derrik said of his father. “He’s helped me a lot. He’s taught me everything I know, really.”

Derrik took another step toward forging his own basketball identity on Tuesday, accepting an NBA predraft workout invite with the Pacers. Derrik suffered a minor hand injury halfway through the workout and didn’t finish it, but said it was a valuable experience. He said he took part in the workout just to gain feedback from NBA scouts and fully expects to play at Butler next season.

“I would say that I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Derrik said of reaching the NBA level. “I’ve got to get a lot stronger, be more consistent. But I’m proud of where I’m at right now.”

For Derrik, the road to Butler took a turn north. He grew up in Zionsville rooting for the Brad Stevens-coached Butler teams that reached back-to-back NCAA title games in 2010 and 2011 and was offered a scholarship by Stevens to play at Butler. But when Stevens left for the Boston Celtics, Derrik wound up at Valparaiso instead to play for Bryce Drew.

After sitting out his first year at Valpo on a medical redshirt with a foot injury, Derrik dealt with another coaching change when Drew left for Vanderbilt. For the next three seasons with the Crusaders, the 7-1 Derrik split time at center with another 7-footer, Jaume Sorolla.

Last season, with Sorolla sitting out the early part of the year with an injury, Derrik averaged 12.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 21.8 minutes per game. After earning his undergraduate degree at Valpo as a redshirt junior, Derrik consulted with his dad. Both agreed it was the right time to make a move. Still, Derrik was close to tears when he broke the news to Valpo coach Matt Lottich that he was leaving.

The timing to return to Butler was perfect. The Bulldogs had just lost their starting center, Joey Brunk, as a grad transfer to Indiana. Second-year Butler coach LaVall Jordan saw the same traits in Derrik that Stevens did.

“I liked what he told me and all the coaching staff made big a push for me, so it made me feel at home,” Derrik said.

Rik said he’s proud of what his son has been able to accomplish in his college basketball career, given some of the bumps along the way. Rik described himself as a hands-on basketball dad, coaching his son in youth basketball, middle school and even through high school.

“For a couple of years, just kind of helped out in practice,” Rik said. “So I was there. Kind of hands-on, he was being a typical teenager didn’t always pay attention to dad, did his own thing, which was OK.”

But Rik said his son displayed an excellent work ethic last offseason and that has extended into this offseason.

“He’s had a lot of things given to him, which is probably my fault because I kind of spoiled him a little bit here and there,” Rik said. “But now he realizes you’ve got to work for what you want to get, and he’s definitely putting in the work now.”

Rik didn’t have much handed to him when he arrived at small Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., from the Netherlands. He was taken second overall in the NBA draft by the Pacers in 1988 and in 12 seasons scored 12,871 career points and grabbed 5,277 rebounds to earn the nickname “The Dunkin’ Dutchman.”

Rik moved from Zionsville to Cave Creek, Ariz., two years ago but still owns his home in Zionsville and plans to return there to watch his son play next season. He said he thinks his son will benefit from the move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East Conference, where he will be exposed to facing nationally ranked programs like Villanova, Marquette and Xavier.

“When he plays better competition, he plays better, when there are more bigger guys,” Rik said. “I was the same way, I always hated playing against the 6-7, 6-8 guys, I always did much better against 7-footers, bigger guys.”

Rik agreed with his son’s assessment on what he needs to do to improve to get to the NBA.

“He’s a pretty good low post scorer from the block, he’s a good passer but his rebounding needs to be more consistent, defense more consistent,” Rik said. “And then, bring back his outside shooting. He’s definitely capable of it but he just hasn’t done it in so long, coach didn’t want him to, that his confidence is down a little bit. But hopefully this summer, we’ll get a lot of shooting in or he’ll get a lot of shooting in and it will come back.”