You know what they say about guys with big hands? Greg Smith, the starting power forward for the Houston Rockets, might answer something like this: they work hard, stay focused, and keep things in perspective. It would be truthful answer for Smith, whose hands measure an incredible 12 inches wide. He has risen from the ranks of the D-League to a starting job on the Houston Rockets. (Just for perspective, the next longest hand width at the 2011 combine with was the Kawhi Leonard with 11.3 inches.)
The 6′ 10″, 250 lbs Smith logged many hours away from home and on the road to get to Houston.
Smith had a short, but successful career at Fresno State University. In 2010, he was named the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year and averaged 11.7 points and 8.1 rebounds during his sophomore campaign. Smith declared for the 2011 NBA Draft, but ended up not getting picked. He made the unusual move of signing with the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, the top professional basketball association in Mexico. (Other notable alumni of the LNBP include Jamario Moon and Dennis Rodman.) While playing south of the border he learned a few important lessons that have helped him during his current stint in the NBA. Smith said the experience was difficult, but allowed him to see the bigger picture in life and his career. He was on his own, away from his family, and playing against grown men in their late 30’s. The twenty year-old Smith quickly learned to keep his head down and work his tail off to try get to the NBA.
Smith said that it was hard to get the attention of NBA teams after going undrafted. Even so, he kept up a demanding routine of playing time and conditioning. He eventually got noticed by the Rockets and signed a contract in February of 2012, He bounced around between the Rockets and Grand Valley Rapids (the Rockets D-League team) for the past year, but ended up playing 70 games in Rockets uniform this season.He credits part of his success to the bonds he made with current Rockets players during his back and forth stints. Gaining the trust of teammates and getting the attention of his coaches for his work ethic was pivotal to his success.
Even though he has a starting job, Smith’s work ethic has not diminished. His typical day involves a couple hours of conditioning, followed by the gym for some shooting. Then he gets treatments, and THEN he works out for a hour, lifts some weights, watches game film, and settles in for a good night’s sleep. The only thing that takes precedent over basketball, he said, is family.
Greg is a father to three year-old Gianna and Gregory Jr., who was born this past January. It’s immediately apparent that family is the number one priority in Greg’s life, and rightly so. Smith described his children as ‘a blessing’ and joked about how their personalities couldn’t be more different. Gianna has her father’s personality, a jokester with non-stop energy who gives Greg very few breaks from playtime. Gregory Jr. is content to just sit quietly and rarely cries. Smith can’t help but wonder about ‘what’s going on in his head?’
Smith admitted that playing in the NBA is tough on his family life. He makes it work by using Skype and calling his kids numerous times a day. Smith said his family keeps him motivated professionally. “Gianna loves to watch me play basketball,” he said. Greg’s kids have been in attendance for each of the Rockets playoff games so far.
Teammate Chandler Parsons mentioned that Greg is one of the most down-to-earth and kind folks you will meet. Smith cited his uncle and older cousin with instilling his life philosophy, “Take life seriously and respect everyone. Always be nice. Make everyone laugh, make sure everyone feels your positive energy,” he said. Seems like a pretty solid set of guidelines to live by.
Faith has become a “huge part” of Smith’s life. He started attending Church while at Fresno State, and has been a regular attendee ever since. When he started to make faith a central focus in his life, he noticed that things have progressively improved. Just like he was able to see the bigger picture of making it in the NBA to care for his family when he was in Mexico, faith now plays a similar ‘bigger picture’ role.
What are Smiths’ career goals? One of them is to work out with former Rockets Center, Hakeem Olajuwon, who has given other NBA players tips, including LeBron James, on playing in the low post.
Smith is a FIFA fanatic and loves to play it while on the road. He’s also a big rap fan. “E40 is basically an uncle to me,” he said.
“We too real to be phony, why should we fake it?” goes a line from the E-40 song, Thick & Thin. Smith, who has logged his share of minutes in the gym and miles on the road, and is now in the NBA playoffs, doesn’t need to fake anything.