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News » Smith showing maturity Jail time this summer has given J.R. a new purpose for game, life

Smith showing maturity Jail time this summer has given J.R. a new purpose for game, life

Smith showing maturity Jail time this summer has given J.R. a new purpose for game, life With time frozen, J.R. Smith sat frozen, staring at the prison wall, a prisoner of his own thoughts.

His mind's images were searing - a dying friend, a crying mother.

The Nuggets guard spent 24 long days this summer at Monmouth (N.J.) County Jail, serving time for the 2007 car crash that killed his friend, Andre Bell. For two years, Smith was haunted by the nightmare of that night. And here, he was living a new one.

"When somebody's in that situation, it's hard to ask, 'How are you doing,"' said Denver's Carmelo Anthony, who reached Smith by phone during Smith's sentence. "Because you already know how they're doing. ? But he fought through it. That's behind him."

Annually this time of year, teammates and coaches talk about Smith growing up. Annually, Smith's shenanigans stunt his growth. But after a sobering July behind bars, Smith's teammates and coaches - and more telling, Smith himself - believe this is the year.

"I think actions speak louder than words," Smith said Friday at the Nuggets' annual media day. "The fact that I've matured and all that stuff is not about saying it, it's about showing it."

In the past couple of months, the shooting guard has shown his maturity with his passionate dedication to Basketball. Smith spent numerous days in a Las Vegas gym with Nuggets assistants Tim Grgurich and Jamahl Mosley, as well as Joe Abunassar, the famed Basketball trainer who also trains Denver guard Chauncey Billups.

"I have spent a lot of time with J.R. in Vegas," Billups said, "and we've had some very, very in-depth conversations about him growing up. He has an opportunity of a lifetime, and we're going to really need him. We're going to depend on him a lot this year. He is an all-star caliber player. I do think he's recognized that he's made some very immature mistakes not only this summer but the past two, three years. I think he recognizes that he can't continue to do that."

Smith's immaturity and recklessness off the court mirrored some of his immaturity and recklessness on the court. An all-star talent, Smith used to shoot too frequently and defend too infrequently.

But talking to his assistants and watching Smith this summer, coach George Karl believes he has a "more total player" on his hands. What does that mean? More attention to court spacing, seeking assists, hustling on defense and shot selection.

"He's one of the guys in the league who you can't keep in front of you," Karl said, "so he always has the ability to play-make. If he continues to play-make, he has such an upside. Right now, his explosiveness - most of the time - is with his scoring. Now can he add defensive games? Triple-double games? Just-being- a-good-decoy games. I think this is the same thing I said about Melo two to three years ago."

But, as Smith explained, actions speak louder than words.

"I wake up with a purpose - have a goal," said Smith, who turned 24 on Sept. 24. "I need to be who I need to be."

The NBA suspended Smith for Denver's first seven games, a punishment Smith felt was fair, though it will keep him out of some important matchups against Utah and Portland, games that could affect the division outcome. Karl said the team will treat it as if it was an injury, and he likely will give his stars and starters more minutes to make up for Smith's absence.

When Smith returns, Denver will have a player who averaged 14.9 points per game last season and finished fifth in the NBA in both 3-pointers attempted and made. Smith was Denver's delicious reserve last season, and Karl has said the next step is putting Smith in the starting lineup. But even if he doesn't start right away, he will finish games on the court, more often than not.

"And that's more meaningful to me than starting," Karl said.

Benjamin Hochman: 303-954-1294 or

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 28, 2009


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