LINCOLN — The size-challenged Nebraska men’s basketball team took a step toward addressing that need Monday with an oral commitment from power forward Leslee Smith of Seward County (Kan.) Community College.
Smith, a native of the British Virgin Islands who played as a freshman at SMU, is listed at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds.
“He’s all of that, and strong as an ox,” Seward County assistant Jason Sautter said Monday from Liberal, Kan.
OK, check mark in the size box. What about athleticism?
“The difference between Leslee and Brandon Ubel is like night and day,” Sautter said, using the Huskers’ outgoing senior co-captain for comparison.
“Brandon did everything he could with what he had. But Leslee is a Big Ten athlete, no question. I think he fits what Nebraska is trying to do. He can step out on the floor, he can handle the ball, he can guard a guard and he can post up down low, too.”
Smith’s statistics don’t dazzle: 8.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, less than one block a game. He shot 50 percent from the field and 50.5 percent from the free-throw line.
“At the start of the season, he was trying too hard and didn’t know how to fit in,” Sautter said. “By the time conference play started, he was getting double-doubles.”
In two games against Hutchinson (Kan.) CC, ranked No. 1 and 5 nationally at the time, Smith had 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks one time and 14 points, eight rebounds and one block the next.
Seward County finished 25-8, winning the Jayhawk League West Division at 14-2. Six players from that team are expected to earn Division I scholarships.
Current Nebraska redshirt guard Deverell Biggs out of Omaha Central played at Seward Country, but not with Smith. Sautter, who is from Nebraska, coached Smith and Biggs.
Sautter said Smith had a recruiting visit scheduled to St. Louis, while West Virginia tried to get involved late. But Smith stopped the process after his Nebraska visit last week.
Smith played high school ball at Christian Life Center Academy in Houston. At SMU, he started six games, played in 25 and averaged 3.8 points and 3.4 rebounds.
So why did he leave SMU with coaching legend Larry Brown taking over the Mustangs?
“The knock on Leslee was that he was lazy,” Sautter said. “But that isn’t the way it is now.
“We pushed him. He needs to be pushed. If you make him do it, he will. I can’t remember how many times he told us this year, ‘Now I know what it means to work hard.’”
Smith is in strong shape academically, Sautter said, and “is one of the best young men I have ever coached.”
“Nebraska did its homework on Leslee,” Sautter said. “Is he going to be the savior of the program? No. Not by himself. But he’ll be a good piece of the puzzle.”
Smith would be the fourth member of NU’s 2013-14 recruiting class. He can sign a letter of intent on April 17.
The Huskers’ three November recruits were 6-3 point guard Tai Webster from Auckland, New Zealand; 6-5 guard Nathan Hawkins from Rowlett, Texas; and 6-6 small forward Nick Fuller from Sun Prairie, Wis.
One scholarship remains available. Nebraska also has offered 6-7, 215-pound Sai Tummala of Salt Lake (Utah) Community College, who as a freshman was a preferred walk-on at Michigan. Another offer went to 6-9 Matthew Atewe of Notre Dame Prep Academy, who has committed to Auburn.
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