June 19, 2009
Basketball continues to nag at Kendrick Fox and Jason Smith.
Even after successful careers at the University of Mississippi, Fox, 25, and Smith, 31, aren''t ready to put their sneakers away for good.
That''s why Fox and Smith are keeping their games alive with the Tupelo Rock-n-Rollers in the World Basketball Association Exposure League.
Their objective is to make an impression on the basketball court so they can secure an opportunity to play professional basketball overseas or with another league in the United States.
"I wanted to see if I still have it," Smith said. "I wanted to see what I could do and see if I could still play and compete hard. I think I have actually gotten better since college. Like you said, I am scratch that little itch."
Fox, Smith, and the Rock-n-Rollers will be in Columbus at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to play host to the Buford Majic at Columbus High School.
Former Mississippi State standout Darryl Wilson also plays for Tupelo, as does former Aberdeen High standout Chris Sykes and former Columbus High player Elmo Brown.
Former Columbus High and current Itawamba Community College basketball coach Brian Alexander is the head coach for Tupelo.
The league, which has six teams and is in its sixth season, was founded in 2003 to teach, to develop, and to expose basketball players to NBA, NBA - Development League, and international scouts. It is designed to be a training ground to develop professional players, coaches, and personnel on and off the court.
This is the second consecutive season Fox has played in the WBA Exposure League. Last year, he was a member of the Mississippi Hardhats, but that experience didn''t work out like he thought it would. He said not having the right representation prevented him from getting to the next level.
Fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered after his senior season at Ole Miss in 2004-05, Fox believes his versatility, especially his willingness to play defense, which he learned from former Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes, will help him attract the interest of scouts and coaches.
The 6-foot-6 guard/forward led Ole Miss with 56 3-pointers and shot a team-best 42.7 percent from behind the arc as a senior.
Fox, who lives in Oxford, was a member of the SEC Good Works Team in 2005. He said Tupelo owner Russell Brooks is providing better organization and a better atmosphere for the players to succeed this season. His goal is to capitalize on the opportunity to be seen.
"I really feel this is my year to go somewhere else, wherever that may be," said Fox, who completed his degree in business management in 2006 at Ole Miss. "Since I have been in the league I have made a couple of connections and I am looking to talk to them and to get a chance to go somewhere. This is the year for me."
Smith also feels confident in his ability to secure another job.
The 6-5 guard/forward from Wheatley, Ark., finished his career with 1,286 points. He led the Rebels in steals all four seasons, and finished his career as the school''s all-time leader in the category with 211 in 118 games.
Smith has played professional basketball in Venezuela, Romania, Iceland, and Belgium. He said his best experience came in 2006 with the Arkansas RimRockers in the NBA - Development League, which is similar to a minor league for the NBA.
Smith thought he was one step away from making the NBA, but a hamstring injury worked against him.
Three years later, Smith knows his chances of making the NBA have decreased, but he still believes he has the game to compete at a high level.
"I think I am good enough to play in the NBA, but I don''t think there are a lot of people who will take a chance on a 31-year-old," Smith said. "I understand it is a business and there are a lot of kids who can do the things I can do.
"I am trying to get into the best basketball shape I can so if the opportunity comes I will take it."
Looking back, Smith said he wouldn''t have taken two years off after playing professional basketball in Iceland. He said he left the sport to spend time with his two boys (he now has three). He said he doesn''t regret the time he spent with his kids, but that it was difficult for him to get his name back out to coaches and to scouts when he returned.
Smith hopes the WBA Exposure League will be able to help him reconnect with basketball people across the world.
"I can still compete with these guys and I am pretty much exposed overseas," Smith said. "I feel good and I am on a good team (4-2 record). I am not where I was but I am getting there. After these next four games I will have to continue to run and do the things that got me to this level. I can''t just stop after 10 games. The only thing I am concerned about is being ready for my shot."
Alexander said both players, who have started, have done everything he has asked to help the team succeed. He believes both have the skills and the intangibles to help another professional team.
"They''re both team players," Alexander said. "The good thing about those two is they can score, defend, and rebound and do them very well.
"Those two guys are skilled athletes. They have played at a high level, so they understand what it means to turn the intensity up."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.