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Smith carries experience from Oak Hill to Duke

For the past four years, Nolan Smith may as well have been playing for a college program.

Smith captained Oak Hill Academy-widely considered the top high school program in the country-to the nation's No. 1 ranking last season and ended his prep career with an array of postseason awards, including a McDonald's All-America selection. Smith was playing with the best of the best and succeeding while doing it.

But as Smith soon learned, Mouth of Wilson, Va. is not Durham, and Oak Hill is not Duke.

The combo guard's pseudo-collegiate high school environment would be his only outlet for relieving typical freshman-year jitters.

As a Blue Devil, Smith will not be a freshman; he will be a Blue Devil. And that's exactly what head coach Mike Krzyzewski expects from his recruits-especially those with backgrounds like Smith's.

"He has played at a high level of competition," Krzyzewski said. "So he's more ready to play and can really put the best pressure up on the ball of any of our players in preseason workouts, and [he's] very athletic. So how does that fit in? That fits in well."

Smith's work ethic is up to par, but he has still had to adjust to a more mature style of play, particularly on offense.

"At Oak Hill we ran the ball and we just scored," Smith said. "Now, we're running the ball, we're looking to make better scoring plays rather than just throwing the ball at the rim. We're looking to penetrate and kick out to the closest teammate, just making the best play possible."

No matter what that play is, Smith has the ability to be an integral part of it. At Oak Hill, he averaged 22.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals as a senior to lead his team to a 40-1 record. As a junior, the two-year captain also guided Oak Hill to a 40-1 record and the No. 2 ranking in the nation.

The offensive schemes may be different, but Smith's defensive prowess has translated well to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"I just go for explosiveness, explosiveness and just making plays," the 6-foot-2 freshman said. "All of that starts with defense. Duke basketball prides itself on defense, and I feel like my pressure on the ball [and forcing] turnovers make [opponents] play a game they might not want to play."

Already used to tough competition, Smith's transition to the next level was only made easier by other past basketball ties. When he arrived on campus, Smith was greeted by a familiar face in sophomore Gerald Henderson, whom Smith has known since childhood.

Henderson has helped Smith further shape his game on a daily basis, tweaking the freshman for ACC competition.

"He knows I can just be aggressive," Smith said. "He knows I can score and I can pass. That's what he wants me to do, and he lets me know that. It can be something as little as showing me how to do a drill, do this, after practice getting shots up. Just being like a big brother."

The pair has never played on the same team before this year, but met when both their fathers-Gerald Henderson, Sr. and the late Derek Smith-were teammates on the Philadelphia 76ers. And while Henderson can help to guide Smith in the present, Smith's father has helped the freshman understand what it takes to play at a high level.

"Before he passed away, one thing he taught me was keeping a good attitude," Smith said. "Attitude can take you a long, long way. Coach K always emphasizes the attitude, so I know if I keep my attitude right, just keep an open mind when the coaches are telling me something, when my teammate tells me something. Everybody's telling me something just to make me better."


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