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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Duke's Smith motivated by legacy

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) One of Duke guard Nolan Smith's prized possessions is the NCAA championship ring his late father Derek won three decades ago with Louisville.

News photo
Chip off the block: Nolan Smith will lead Duke into this weekend's Final Four in Indianapolis. His late father Derek and the Louisville Cardinals won the title there in 1980. AP PHOTO

What better way to honor him, Smith wonders, than to win one himself?

"That's the motivation," Smith said. "That's what I'm going to carry with me."

Smith's journey has brought him to Indianapolis, the same city where his father and Darrell Griffith helped lead the Cardinals to the 1980 national title before beginning his NBA career.

Now it's Nolan's turn to chase a championship of his own.

"I see a very high level of focus," teammate Lance Thomas said Friday. "Nolan's very confident right now, and this is probably the most focused I've seen him since he's been here. He has the look of a winner right now, and I can't always say he had that look."

Called his team's "unsung hero" by coach Mike Krzyzewski, Smith will be asked to lead the Blue Devils (33-5) against West Virginia (31-6) in Saturday night's NCAA semifinal.

Before the game, he'll pause to look at the tattoo on his right arm, the one that bears his father's likeness and the words, "Forever Watching."

And he'll ask himself how his dad would handle the situation.

"I take a lot of his game, his passion and the way he approached every game," Smith said. "It makes me feel good, when I take the court, I look down at my tattoo. . . . I know he's always with me, every game."

The younger Smith has done his part to keep his father's memory alive — especially in the South Regional championship against Baylor. He watched a television feature on Derek Smith early that day and sent out a pre-game tweet: "This one is for you, Dad!! I love you! 43 . . . Let's go Duke!"

Then, he went out and had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 29 points to lead the Blue Devils to a 78-71 win that gave them their 11th Final Four appearance under Krzyzewski and first since 2004.

"I didn't let it over-emotionalize me, but I used it to my advantage, and I'll do the same thing" in the Final Four, Smith said.

Then, for an extra jolt of inspiration, he said he plans to glance at his dad's championship ring, which he brought with him to Indianapolis. The diamond-laden gold ring has Smith's name and uniform No. 43 on it.

"I look at it before I do anything, really," he said.

At 188 cm, 84 kg, Nolan Smith is about 10 cm shorter and 10 kg lighter than his father, who as a sophomore forward won an NCAA title here before a nine-year NBA career with Golden State, the Clippers in both San Diego and Los Angeles, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Boston.

"We watch the YouTube clip where his dad dunks on Michael Jordan," Duke's Jon Scheyer said. "The thing that stands out to me is how much bigger Nolan's dad is than Nolan. I never let him hear the end of that."

Nolan Smith had just turned 8 when he went on a cruise with his parents. While on the ship, Derek Smith died of an apparent heart attack at age 34. It turned out he had an undiagnosed heart defect.

It wasn't until last year when a television network produced a tribute to Derek Smith that his son took some significant steps forward, allowing him to open up and discuss some of his feelings without having to go over every painful detail.

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