CLEMSON – Eventually, Tanner Smith’s going to trade in his jersey for a suit and tie, his high-tops for wingtips, his playing days for a coaching career.
That time is not now, though. Smith, the beloved four-year letterman and three-year starter who spent 2008-12 as a Clemson basketball guard, was so grateful for his first professional season overseas that he thought he’d return to western Europe for round two.
After spending more than eight months in an entry-level league in the Netherlands last winter, Smith officially announced the news via his Twitter account Tuesday he has signed with Neckar Riesen in Ludwigsburg, Germany for the 2013-14 season.
“It is in a much better league than I was in this year. I’m really excited about it,” Smith told The Post & Courier Tuesday. “I really enjoyed going over there this year; it’s a great opportunity to see the world, play basketball and get paid to do that. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
But first things first. Smith spent his Tuesday morning working out at Littlejohn Coliseum, getting his lift in as he prepares to host his first skills camp for youth players next week in nearby Easley.
“I’ve always loved going to camps when I was a kid. Some of my best friends, the first time I met them was in basketball camp,” Smith said. “There’s something exciting about being in camp – you can’t wait to get there, and you’re upset when you have to leave.
He’ll be joined by fellow 2012 graduates Andre Young and Bryan Narcisse. The fourth member of that group, 7-foot-2 center Catalin Baciu, is playing professionally in Romania.
“We had a very close class,” Smith said. “We went through a lot of different things together, and so it’s nice for us all to be together, and just have a good time and teach some kids, and for us to get back together and catch up.”
Smith isn’t a top-ten performer in Clemson basketball history – his highest rungs in the school record books are tied for ninth in games played and 11th in steals – and he never qualified for an all-ACC squad. But he was a four-time all-ACC academic performer, and he left with the adoration of Tigers fans as well as the respect of his teammates.
“It’s nice that (head coach Brad) Brownell lets me come back and hang with these guys,” Smith said, “give them a little advice I got just from a year playing over there, and allowing myself to work on my game for next season.”
Smith did get one week back in the States during last season, in February. He attended the Tigers’ 56-53 win at Georgia Tech and 46-43 home loss to No. 3-ranked Miami, a close call which ended up the first of seven straight defeats to conclude a dismal 13-18 campaign.
It was a tough year indeed in Brownell’s third season: no winning streaks longer than two games, and the first season absent of a win over a ranked opponent since 2005-06. Smith saw most of the games on television, using a Slingbox hooked up to his television in Holland six time zones away.
“They know as well as anybody it’s going to be another difficult season, but they were a couple possessions away from having a solid season last year,” Smith said. “But it’s all about experience and learning how to finish games. They learned a lot of valuable lessons, I think, last year.”
As for Smith, he was one of four Americans on last year’s Landstede roster in Zwolle, including ex-Michigan guard Zack Novak. Smith led the squad with 18.2 points per game, in a league where arenas ranged from 3,000 to 7,000 seats and everyone spoke English (though Dutch is the national language.)
“You’ve really got to love basketball,” Smith said. “You’re just over there for such a long time, you’re in a place where you’re not used to, you’re away from your family and friends. TV’s different, going to the grocery store’s different, everything’s different. It was a great experience for my first year.”
Smith, 23, is forever tied to his Tanner’s Totes initiative, which originated in sixth grade when he wanted to deliver toys and supplies to kids fighting cancer in honor of his father, Craig, a cancer survivor who continues to battle graft-versus-host disease. An Alpharetta, Ga. native, Smith first spread the project in the Atlanta area, then made his first out-of-state delivery on May 20, 2005 to MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston.
More than ten years after Tanner’s Totes was born, it’s now international.
“It was really amazing this year – I was able to deliver a few totes over in the Netherlands,” Smith said. “When I first started this in sixth grade, I didn’t even know what Europe looked like on the map. So I couldn’t have even imagined being able to do that.”
So now, Smith prepares to take his game to Germany, the Netherlands’ neighbor to the east. It’s a one-year deal. They all are.
“I don’t know how long I’ll play. It’s going to be a year-by-year thing,” Smith said. “Every summer, I’ll reevaluate, because eventually I do want to get into coaching. I’d like to learn from some people, be a grad assistant, basketball operations guy. And then kind of see what happens.
“I don’t know what doors will open for me as I continue down that road, but I have no idea when that will start.”