Smits dazzles opponents, spectators in charity game
By JASON MARTIN
Daily Journal Staff Writer
Rik Smits never had a game this monstrous during his Indiana Pacers career.
And he never left the opposition smiling so broadly, whether he swatted their shots over the top of the backboard or ripped a rebound from them.
Smits scored 62 points, grabbed 27 rebounds, blocked five shots, dished four assists and snatched three steals while playing a half for both sides in the Docs vs. Jocks vs. Drugs charity game at Franklin Community High School on Friday night.
What Smits and the crowd of more than 1,000 didn’t anticipate was only the second overtime in the game’s 18-year history.
Smits played with the Docs’ team in the second half, including overtime, and his assist and two foul shots in the extra session helped the Docs to a 110-102 comeback victory.
“I had no idea we’d even go to a overtime,” Smits said. “Luckily, it was only three minutes because I was pretty tired. I only averaged maybe 26, 28 minutes a game during my NBA career, and here I am playing almost 43 minutes.
“But it’s fun when it’s close like that.”
The game, which rotates among area schools, raises money for alcohol and drug awareness programs for host schools. For the first time, the Docs of St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers and Johnson Memorial Hospital matched the gate revenues with their own contribution.
Smits had plenty of company who enjoyed themselves whenever they encountered the 7-foot-4 Netherlands native anywhere on the court.
Franklin trainer Marcus Davis, who played alongside Smits during the first half, had his shot swatted out of bounds after challenging Smits at the start of the second half.
“I said if I had a chance I was going to try to put it up and over him,” Davis said. “I thought I had a chance, and he kind of came out of nowhere. He takes up a lot more space, and he’s a lot quicker running up and down the court than I thought he’d be.”
Custer Baker Middle School teacher Benji Betts made maybe the most memorable positive play against Smits.
Betts’ 3-pointer from the right wing with five seconds remaining — arched over Smits’ leaping right hand — sent the game to overtime at 94-94 after the Jocks blew a lead of as many as 22 points.
“It’s gotta be up there among my best memories ever, making a shot like that against a pro basketball player,” Betts said. “Every time I shot the ball, I thought he would block it.
“He blocked everybody else’s shots, why should I be different?”
After a scorching start, Smits didn’t attempt a field goal after 4:17 left in regulation.
He played 40 of the 43 minutes and made 24 of 43 field goals to go with 8 of 9 foul shots.
Smits was 6 of 9 on 3-point goals.
“I don’t play with Reggie Miller anymore, so now I can shoot those,” Smits said.
Smits, who retired after the 1999-2000 season, said he still plays two or three times a week in pick-up and league games.
“I enjoy playing regardless of what kind of game; I just don’t do it as much,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing in front of the crowds and being with the fans, so this is something different.
“In the leagues, I shoot more 3-pointers and even run the point to get other guys involved. It doesn’t quite seem fair to always post up against shorter guys.”
Players from both sides went out of their way to praise Smits’ friendliness and personability.
Davis said Smits showed up more than an hour before the game to stretch, practice, lounge and sign autographs. He also signed memorabilia to a long line of kids afterward.
“He hung out with us on the bench like one of the guys, like he’d known us forever,” Betts said.
Franklin boys track coach Mike Hall, who kept the clock during the game, shouted to boys basketball assistant coach Jim Higdon the summary of the sentiment the players felt during their memorable night with Smits.
“Hey, Jim,” Hall said, “at least now you can always say you fouled Rik Smits.”