14 Dec 2021 | 01:59 | Basketball
University of South Florida (3-4) vs. Austin Peay (4-4)
Friday, Dec. 14 | 7 p.m.
ARENA: Yuengling Center | Tampa, Fla.
SERIES: USF leads, 3-0
RADIO: iHeart Radio Bulls Unlimited
TWITTER UPDATES: @USFMBB
GAME NOTES: View (PDF)
By Joey Johnston
USF junior guard Serrel Smith Jr., a St. Petersburg native playing his first season with the Bulls, likes being home for the holidays.
He hopes to take on a more pronounced role for the Bulls (3-4) as they prepare for Tuesday night’s game against the Austin Peay Governors (4-4) at the Yuengling Center. Smith certainly has a formidable basketball resume.
At St. Pete High, he led the Green Devils to three consecutive Final Four appearances.
He averaged 29.3 points per game as a senior and was named the 12th-best player in Florida by ESPN.
He was the state’s Class 8A Player of the Year and finished third for Florida’s Mr. Basketball behind Vernon Carey Jr. (who went to Duke, becoming first-team All-ACC and an NBA second-round pick) and Nassir Little (who went to North Carolina and became an NBA first-round pick).
After spending two seasons at Maryland, then one at East Tennessee State University before transferring home, you’d think Smith would have the local bragging rights.Serrel Smith Jr. 2021 BB Marketing
He’s the third most accomplished college performer in his family.
Smith’s mother, Tamika Coley, is a UCF Hall of Famer. She’s the Knights’ all-time leading scorer at 2,006 points and she had 1,211 career rebounds. Smith’s cousin, Jerica Coley, was the national leader in women’s basketball scoring at Florida International University in 2013-14 (29.5 points per game). She finished with 3,107 career points.
“Yeah, they can play a little bit,” Smith said with a laugh. “I don’t mind. I love my family. I grew up in the gym and my mom trained me most of the time. We are definitely a basketball family. I want to get back where I’m doing (big) things again.”
USF recruited Smith out of high school, but the player felt his best route was out of town to Maryland, a Big Ten Conference school. He loved the environment and fondly remembers the weekend when ESPN’s College GameDay came to campus. He averaged 3.4 points per game, including a career-high 14 against Ohio State, as a freshman and shot 84-percent from the free-throw line.
Ultimately, tough, he wanted more playing time. He transferred to ETSU and averaged 7.0 points per game, but the COVID season wore on him. As it turned out, everything he ever wanted was at home.
“USF was always in the back of my mind,” Smith said. “Leaving to go somewhere else, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Being around family and playing for your hometown school, it’s a nice thing.”
“If we had signed Serrel out of high school,” USF coach Brian Gregory said with a smile, “they would’ve had a parade from St. Pete to Tampa. He was very well-accomplished and we wanted him here. We’re glad to have him now.”
Gregory said Smith has always possessed superior skills. With renewed confidence, Smith could be a major asset for the Bulls.
“He’s wired to score,” Gregory said. “He’s a good decision-maker. He’s very good defensively. He has great length (6-foot-4). We want him to play with aggressiveness and confidence because he will give us great versatility at the guard spot.Serrel & Lamont 110121 MBB v VOR
“We will always recruit the best players from this area. Sometimes, they don’t want to stay home. When we were at Dayton, it took us four or five years to keep the best players home. But when you get the right guy playing in their backyard and he has success, it can be really special. We’re thrilled Serrel is here and we really want this to be a great situation for him.”
So far, Smith is averaging 3.0 points per game in 11.5 minutes of play. He said he knows he can do more and is hopeful of earning additional opportunities. Either way, it has been a happy homecoming.
“I’m a player who likes to bring it on both ends of the court,” Smith said. “I’m going to play hard and do all I can for this team. It would mean a lot to help this team become a winner.”
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About USF Men’s Basketball
The USF men’s basketball team is led by head coach Brian Gregory, who enters his fifth season in 2021-22. Gregory was introduced as the 10th head coach in program history in March of 2017 after previously leading programs at Georgia Tech (2011-16) and Dayton (2003-11). Gregory spent nearly a decade as an assistant coach under Michigan State’s Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo and helped the Spartans win the 2000 NCAA National Championship. Gregory owns over 300 career head coaching wins and six postseason appearances, including the 2010 NIT Championship with Dayton. In his second season at the helm of the Bulls, Gregory led the team to the best win turnaround in the NCAA, the most single-season wins in school history and the 2019 College Basketball Invitational championship.
USF has retired three numbers in its 48-year history: Chucky Atkins (12), Charlie Bradley (30) and Radenko Dobras (31). The Bulls have earned three NCAA tournament bids, appeared in the NIT eight times and won the 2019 College Basketball Invitational.
For tickets, contact the USF Ticket Office at 1-800-Go-Bulls or by going online to USFBullsTix.com.