By Zach Gilleland
After missing all of last season with a torn labrum, SU men’s basketball senior forward Wyatt Smith is ready to get back on the court.
“It feels great to get back, it’s been a long time coming,” Smith said after Salisbury’s season-opening win against Goucher on Nov. 15. “The energy was great, the guys on the bench and everybody was really supportive.”
Smith finished his first game in over a year with a double-double, registering 12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Before his injury, the forward was one of the top performers in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC). Two seasons ago, Smith shot 58 percent from the field, good for first in the CAC. The Abingdon, Maryland native also finished second in the conference with 14.7 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. His performance on the court afforded Smith CAC First Team All-Conference honors.
Smith will be relied upon to produce for a team that has high expectations after two-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The team is trying to achieve something never done before in program history: make three straight NCAA Tournament berths. SU head coach Andrew Sachs said the senior’s return will be more of a mental game rather than a physical one for the forward.
“[Wyatt] is a kid that makes us a lot better,” Sachs said. “Anybody that can take nine months off, you’re going to have some rust. I have high expectations for Wyatt, and my hope is that having a guy like him around will lead this team to the NCAA Tournament.”
Sachs believes that the injury had a positive impact on the forward. He said Smith’s return will be beneficial not only for Wyatt but for the rest of the team. “I think the injury has made him better in terms of skill and he is not so one-handed dominant anymore,” Sachs said. “Hopefully he will draw a lot of double-teams and guys like Justin Witmer, Chad Barcikowski, Al Leder, Braedon Dorsey and Jack Ferguson can all benefit from that.”
After his injury, Smith worked on rehabilitating his shoulder. “Starting off, I tried to listen to everything the doctor said about not running, moving my arm around too much and making sure to do the necessary things,” Smith said. “As soon as I was able to jog around, I started using my right hand, constantly working on my off-hand as much as possible, trying to stay in shape and running around as much as I could.”
During his time off, Smith started to pay more attention off the court. He said he watched more films and worked hard to get back to playing at his best.
“Once I started to get into a position to work on strength, I really took the rehab serious,” the forward said. “Everything the trainers told me to do, to not take any reps off and I didn’t fool around when it was time to work out. I tried to make sure that there were no issues. I didn’t want to end up re-tearing or re-dealing with the situation another time.”
For many athletes, it can be difficult to get back to original form without worrying about the injury.
“Once I was able to go full force I wanted to play without fear,” Smith said. “Working out and doing things without worrying about whether it was going to be bad, putting the injury to the side and focusing on what I had to do to get my arm back to normal again.”
The extended absence was an adjustment for Smith. One of the key contributors to the team, the senior said he was not used to being on the sidelines.
“It was tough, but I was at peace with it once I made the decision to sit out before last season,” Smith said. “I [thought], ‘how am I going to be able to do this—not being with the guys?’ Once I realized they were going to be alright, it was something I had to do. It was basically a learning process.”
After the injury and rehabilitation, the forward said he is feeling great about the season.
“I’m feeling really good: I feel stronger, faster and my confidence level is high,” Smith said. “I feel like going into this [season] there [are] things to improve on but right now I’m feeling good about where I’m at, constantly trying to get better and stronger as the season is going on.”
With a Sea Gull roster that includes eight freshmen, Sachs will be looking for Smith to be a leader for the team to succeed.
“He needs to be a leader and I think he has grown up and matured,” Sachs said. “We’ll go as far as he takes us.”
As for Smith, the goal is still the same.
“My goals for the season are to lead the team to a championship,” he said. “Whatever it takes to win games and to unlock the full potential I have as a basketball player.”