LITTLE ROCK — The highest-rated in-state prospect in 29 years will stay home for his college basketball as 2022 ESPN national No. 6 / 5-star Nick Smith, Jr., committed to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday during a ceremony with family, friends, media, and the general public in attendance.
Smith (6-5 combo guard, North Little Rock, ESPN national No. 6 / 5-star prospect) becomes the Razorbacks’ highest-rated in-state commitment since 1992 as he follows Russellville native and Hogs icon Corliss Williamson, who was a consensus national Top 3 prospect in 1992 before going on to become a two-time SEC Player of the Year and two-time AP second team All American as he led Arkansas to the 1993-94 national championship followed by a repeat run to the’94-95 title game.
Smith is also Arkansas’ first 5-star pledge since Little Rock native Bobby Portis– former McDonald’s All American, SEC Player of the Year, and Associated Press second team All American– called the Hogs as ESPN’s No. 16-ranked prospect in 2013.
For third-year Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman, Smith marks his first 5-star recruiting win at Arkansas and the highest-rated player he’s won a pledge from in seven years as a college head coach.
Smith, he intends to sign during the fast-approaching mid-November early period, chose the Hogs over Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis, Oklahoma, and other high-major programs as well as professional basketball opportunities. In addition to Arkansas, Smith visited Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Kansas, Memphis, and Georgetown, and he cancelled visits to Kentucky and Oklahoma.
Smith arrived on Arkansas’ campus for his official visit at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 10, to begin a busy weekend packed with a couple of Hoop Hog practices that he attended as well as Arkansas’ 40-21 football win over then-No. 15 Texas on Saturday, Sept. 11, and the trip was a timely, successful capper to a two-year courtship during which Musselman and his coaching staff made Smith a recruiting priority.
“It was a cool atmosphere,” Smith told Hogville.net on Sunday, Sept. 12. “Just being around everyone, Coach Muss, and all the staff. Seeing how the fans react. Cool environment. It’s a staff that can help me get to the league, put me in a position if I do go to Arkansas I can do this and possibly go (to the professional level) in five months.”
Smith also talked about his takeaways from attending two Arkansas practices, the coaching staff’s vision for him as a fit in their system, and in-person relationship-building with the staff.
“It’s a very high-level practice,” he said. “I feel like the coaching staff is doing a great job of keeping up their players’ energy. The players they have on the team right now are energy guys, like Devo (Davis) and Kamani (Johnson). Those two as players are leading the way. I’m a combo (guard), so it’s (the staff’s vision) about just letting me be me. At the end of the day, it’s about playing both on the ball (as a 1) and off the ball (as a 2).
“Everybody knows you have to have some type of connection toward the coaches, but I’m just trying to pick the right school for me. Like virtual and talking on the phone has been good, but getting to know them in person is very different and I’d have to say it’s been pretty cool.”
It was Smith’s second visit to Arkansas since an unofficial visit in the summer of 2019. Following a year-plus-long NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, the Hogs’ pursuit of Smith gained steam again with on-site game evaluations during July 2021 live events. The courtship continued as all four Arkansas coaches — Musselman and assistants Keith Smart, Gus Argenal, and Clay Moser — attended Smith’s practices and made in-home visits with him at various times in September.
Smith headlines a 2022 Arkansas recruiting class that has grown to four commitments all ranked in the national Top 100 as he joins [b]Derrian Ford[/b] (6-5 guard / wing, Magnolia, composite national No. 52 / 4-star prospect); [b]Barry Dunning, Jr.[/b] (6-6 small forward, McGill-Toolen in Ala., ESPN national No. 77 / 4-star prospect); and [b]Joseph Pinion[/b] (6-6 wing, Morrilton, ESPN national No. 95 / 4-star prospect).
It’s a class that was already ranked in the Top 10 nationally by recruiting services prior to Smith’s commitment, and the last time the Razorbacks landed four Top 100 high recruits, 2020’s Moses Moody, Devo Davis, Jaylin Williams, and KK Robinson, they landed as ESPN’s No. 5-ranked recruiting class nationally before collectively playing huge roles in helping send Arkansas to a final national Top 10 ranking and NCAA tournament Elite Eight run in ’20-21.
The day before his OV to Arkansas, Smith talked about what he would be looking forward to on his return trip to Fayetteville.
“I’ve been talking to (Arkansas coaches) since I was in like 10th grade, especially Muss,” Smith said. “Basically, getting to see the campus, getting to see my guys (current Hogs). You know I’m close with Devo (Davis), everybody knows that, but just spending time going to the Texas game and seeing the environment of the Razorbacks and the campus, meeting everybody.
“This is one of my options. I’m trying to making a business decision, really not just picking a school off a visit. Just making the right choice for me, and the right choice for my family, and everything will take care of itself.”
Smith also considered professional opportunities with the start-up Overtime Elite league (reportedly he was offered close to $1 million for two years) and Australia’s NBL, but he recently eliminated those options with the sole goal of selecting a college to continue his hoops journey after high school.
“My situation, it’s kind of hard for a 17-year-old to turn down a lot of money, which I did,” Smith said. “Looking at where I’m trying to get to, I’m not really looking at that right now. I’m really in a blessed situation with my parents. With my parents, I don’t really have to worry about that stuff (earning money immediately as a pro) right now. The goals I have for myself, I feel like college is the right route for me.”
Smith, who in August took part in the SLAM Summer Classic in New York along with other national elite prospects, was a consistent 20-plus-points-per-game scorer the last couple of seasons at Sylvan Hills before transferring to North Little Rock for the upcoming ’21-22 season. He’s also starred the past couple of grassroots seasons playing for the St. Louis-based Brad Beal Elite organization that competes on the Nike EYBL circuit.
His run against EYBL competition in a consecutive two-week span in July solidified Smith as the clear choice for Hogville.net’s 2021 All Arkansas Grassroots Player of the Year honor.
“If you put the work in the results are going to show, and it did,” Smith said. “Had a lot of fun playing AAU basketball and it has been nothing but a blessing. But getting a chance to compete, and compete with my teammates, was one of the best experiences of my life, and hopefully God can bless me with more opportunities like I had.”
Smith’s combination of alpha-scorer mentality with the skill to back it up, plus court awareness and facilitating ability that make him a dangerous combo guard, and length has elevated him to being arguably the top combo guard in the nation. As a Top 10 national recruit, Smith has a legitimate case as not only the best guard in the nation, but arguably the best overall prospect. His elite scoring ability is matched by his confidence, a combination that is reminiscent of Arkansas’ all-time leading scorer and All American guard Todd Day (1989-92).