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News » Smith's days in jail provide sobering experience


Smith's days in jail provide sobering experience


Smith's days in jail provide sobering experienceDENVER (AP) - J.R. Smith is pledging more maturity this season, a promise he's made in the past.

The sharp-shooting Denver Nuggets guard realizes that some will believe it, while some will remain skeptical. That's fine with him. He knows he's changed.

It's been a sobering offseason for the 24-year-old Smith, who spent 24 days in a New Jersey correctional facility after pleading guilty to reckless driving.

Hanging out in an isolated cell, Smith had time for reflection. What he took away from his stint in jail was simple - wake up each day with a purpose.

"Know every time that I do something it doesn't affect just me," said Smith, whose 3-point shooting last season helped the Nuggets advance to the Western Conference finals. "It affects my family, my friends, my team, players and coaches."

Smith admitted driving an SUV through a stop sign and colliding with a car in June 2007. His friend, 21-year-old Andre Bell, later died from his injuries.

At his sentencing last June, Smith expressed his remorse, saying "I am deeply sorry. I never intended for this to happen."

Wanda Bell wandered over to Smith at the court hearing, giving him a hug and telling him that she loved him.

She can't hold a grudge, not against someone who meant so much to her son. The buddies formed an immediate bond after meeting their sophomore year at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.

"Two peas in a pod," Wanda Bell said Friday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "Andre was so fond of J.R."

That's why she's hoping to one day sit down with Smith, just to talk about everything that happened.

"I know this can't be easy for J.R.," said Bell, who donated her son's organs. "This is something he has to deal with the rest of his life: My friend is gone. I miss him, too. ... He was just a beautiful son."

There's still a civil suit pending from the accident, said the family's attorney, Harvey Grossman. They're hoping it's resolved soon and they can move on.

"I'd like to see the Bell and Smith families get together and put things back on a positive note," Wanda Bell said. "It's been hard for both families."

Smith spent most of his time in jail in protective custody, passing the hours in jail by sticking to a daily routine of sit-ups and push-ups. He also had other prisoners slip him books under his door. One was a chemistry textbook and another a novel by Stephen King, which he didn't finish because horror books creep him out.

Mostly though, he just thought about life as he stared at the walls. He has a baby daughter now, even more incentive to mature.

"I don't want her to see me doing some of the stupid things I've been doing," he said.

Smith also received phone calls from teammates. Those were a little awkward.

"When somebody is in that situation, it's hard to ask him, 'How you doing?"' Carmelo Anthony said. "I kept telling him, 'You'll be out in a couple of days."'

When he did get out, Smith headed to Las Vegas and spent some time working out with Chauncey Billups, who's been serving as Smith's mentor.

"Trying to pretty much follow in his footsteps," Smith said.

The Nuggets have been marching to Billups' beat since he arrived last season. The veteran helped solidify the team, transforming the squad from middle-of-the-pack into a contender.

Now he's grooming Smith.

"We've had some very, very in-depth conversations about him growing up," Billups said. "He has the opportunity of a lifetime and we're going to really need him, we're going to depend on him a lot this year."

Smith was instant energy off the bench for the Nuggets last season, averaging a career-high 15.2 points a game. And while there's a starting spot open, Nuggets coach George Karl isn't so sure he wants to promote Smith.

Not that Smith isn't deserving, it's just that Karl likes his spark off the bench.

The Nuggets also have to weather Smith's absence as he serves a league-mandated seven-game suspension for pleading guilty to reckless driving.

As for Smith's pledge of more maturity, Billups has already noticed a difference.

"I do think he's recognized that's he's made some very, very immature mistakes, not only this summer but the last two or three years," Billups said. "I think he recognizes he can't continue to do that. Hopefully, he has a clean slate this year."

That's his hope as well.

"I've said in the past that I've matured," Smith said. "Now, it's not about saying - it's about showing."


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 3, 2009

 

 
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