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With the height of a center and the skills of a guard, Jabari Smith considered multiple pathways to professional basketball.
He chose Auburn.
“I wanted to experience the college life,” said Smith, a 6-10 freshman power forward on Auburn’s Men’s Basketball Team who picked the Tigers over other colleges and the NBA’s official minor league organization. “You don’t really get that college life going to the G League and different routes.”
The opportunity to attend SEC football games, interact with fellow students and begin his college education appealed to Smith. A recruiting pitch from Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, who showed Jabari how other Atlanta metro players—such as Chuma Okeke and Isaac Okoro—thrived at his position in Auburn’s system before getting picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, sealed the deal.
“The words he said really stood out,” Smith said. “Watching their role, how much the ball is in their hands and how much freedom he lets his fours play with. It came down to the family atmosphere, the coaching staff, how much they invest in their players. That played a big part in me choosing Auburn.”
Smith wasted no time adjusting to college basketball, giving fans “a taste of everything”—as Pearl put it—in his debut: points, rebounds, steals, assists, blocked shots.
“Play the game the right way and it’ll give back to you.”
“Jabari has a very advanced skillset,” said Pearl. “He’s a great jump shooter.”
A founding member of what teammates call “The Breakfast Club,” Smith arrived at Auburn Arena at 6:30 a.m. each day before the season to perfect his craft.
“We feel like going early makes you get up and push through,” Smith said. “It shows that you really want it.”
For every shot Smith shoots in a game, he’s made thousands from the same spot during practice.
“I put that confidence in me,” he said. “I’ve put in the work over the years with my teammates, my trainers and my dad.” At Sandy Creek High School in Fayetteville, Ga., Smith developed into a top-five national player in his class, becoming the highest-rated signee in Auburn history.
“My junior year was my first year of being the best player on my team. Having to lead a team. I feel like I’ve come a long way at being a leader. Being more aggressive and trying to give your team a spark.”
After graduating from high school, Smith moved to Auburn and added 20 pounds of muscle over the summer thanks to what could be called “fueling and grueling”: nutritious meals at Auburn’s Wellness Kitchen and intense workouts with Strength and Conditioning Coach Damon Davis.
“It’s making a great difference, taking bumps, being able to play with the physicality of the SEC,” said Smith, who’s listed at 220 pounds. “Feeling stronger on your shot, extending your range and how you look. It makes you feel a little better about yourself, too.”
He may be months away from becoming an NBA first-round pick, but for one season, Jabari Smith is enjoying college life and a chance to be part of a team before basketball becomes his profession.
“We love to see each other succeed,” he said. “Play the game the right way and it’ll give back to you. I’m trying to prove to everybody that I am what they think I am.”
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