When the name Kenny Smith is heard around the University of North Carolina and the basketball world, all eyes gaze toward the rafters at the Dean E. Smith center where his No. 30 hangs amidst the other Tar Heel greats. Now when the name Kenny Smith is heard around Chapel Hill, the reference will be to the son of the former UNC great. Kenny Smith Jr., or KJ, has joined the University of North Carolina basketball team as a walk-on beginning in the 2017-2018 season.
KJ Smith sported his father’s No. 30 jersey on his Twitter account on Monday night, announcing his commitment to Roy Williams and the Tar Heels as a walk-on. Inside Carolina’s Sherrell McMillan first broke the news and informed Tar Heel Nation that the some of the UNC great was coming home.
Although KJ’s decision was broadcasted on Monday, the plan to attend the University of North Carolina had been long in the works. "I always was a UNC fan growing up," Smith said. "It was always in the back of my mind that UNC was the final destination where I wanted to end up. It was always a dream to say 'I'm a Tar Heel.'
Smith, a six-foot-two guard, played his freshman season at Pacific University in Oregon, where he averaged 3.2 points per game in 24 games played. The Thousand Oaks, Calif. native averaged 13 minutes per contest and shot 36.4 percent from the field in his lone season in the Beaver State.
Prior to enrolling at Pacific, he competed for national powerhouse Mater Dei during his senior year of high school and IMG Academy as a post-grad. Smith Jr. aided Mater Dei to a 29-5 record, averaging 8.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.
At Carolina, he hopes to make an impact and spoke to Inside Carolina about his plans on the court and how he can help the Tar Heels. "My strength is definitely my shooting," Smith explained. "I play the '1' and I can play off the ball too. I've played off the ball some because I can shoot. I try to be a leader on and off the court as well. Energy is what I hope to bring to the team. I want to be the guy that's known for that. In practice, during the dog days when we have those rough moments, I want to be the guy that keeps the team going. That's something I want to bring everyday, because it's something I can control everyday."
Every time Smith Jr. takes the court in the Dean Dome, his father’s jersey will be hanging above, a reminder of his magnificent career in Carolina blue. Kenny Smith Sr. played for the Tar Heels from 1983-1987, earning his jersey in the rafters by being selected as a consensus first-team All-American in 1987. The Tar Heel great was a first-team All-ACC selection in 1987 and a two-time second-team All-ACC selection. He was a four year starter and is currently second all-time in assists at UNC with 768 and fifth in steals with 195.
After being selected sixth overall by the Kings in 1987, Smith Sr. played 11 season in the NBA with six different organizations. He was a two-time NBA champion and eclipsed 9,000 points and 4,000 assists in his career.
Three decades later as Kenny Smith Sr. continues his career in the sports industry as a broadcaster, KJ is following in his footsteps from his college days. KJ will join the North Carolina with the Tar Heel bloodline written all over it. Luke Maye’s father, Mark Maye, played QB at UNC and Raymond Felton’s nephew, Jalek Felton, is entering his freshman season at Chapel Hill. Walker Miller, younger brother of former UNC walk-on Wes Miller, is following suit as his brother, joining the UNC basketball team as a walk-on despite other Division I offers.
Kenny Smith Jr. will take the court for the Tar Heels next season, accomplishing his goal that’s been a long time coming. Every time he steps foot on the court at the Dean Dome, there will be two Smith’s donning a Tar Heel uniform: one in the rafters and one the court.