NBA Draft Blog Interview with Tanner Smith

The greatest, and the most humbling, part of what I do is the having the opportunity to talk to, and hopefully bring to a wider audience, a closer look at a wide array of players, many who could end up playing for a team you love.  But then there are times when you get the opportunity to highlight not only a good basketball player, but someone who makes you think and makes you want to be a better person.  If you don’t know Clemson’s Tanner Smith, you should.  Smith, a 3-year starter at Clemson, put together a great all-around senior season, averaging over 11 points, over 5 rebounds, and over 4 assists per game.  Added to that, he was often tasked with guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player, in one of the best conferences in the country.  Watching Clemson play, you couldn’t help but notice Smith doing not only big things to help his team win, but all of the little things that could mean the difference between a win or a loss.  A 4-time all-academic player in the ACC, Smith accomplished all of this while leading a cause close to his heart.  While still in grade school, Smith founded Tanner’s Totes, an organization designed to aid pre-teens and teenagers undergoing long-term treatment in hospitals.  I had the opportunity to talk to Tanner, who is in Chicago training for NBA draft workouts, recently about his college career, preparing for the next level, Tanner’s Totes, and more:

Tanner on how his game developed at Clemson:

“Staying in college for 4 years, it gave me the chance to mature, both on and off the court.  There is a lot you need to handle, again both on and off the court, and my time in college really helped me learn how to take care of my business.  As a player, I was able to play, and guard, multiple positions – the 1, 2, 3, and there were times I had to guard the 4. (Laughs) That was interesting.  Also, having the opportunity to play for 2 different coaches, while tough, allowed me to learn a lot more about the game.”


Tanner on how to coaching switch (from Oliver Purnell to Brad Brownell) affected him as a player: 

“It was a lot of hard work, but it gave me the opportunity to step up as leader during the process.  I had been a starter during my sophomore year (Purnell’s last year) so myself and some of the other guys were able to step up and help the process go as smoothly as it could, while also learning a lot about ourselves as players.”


Tanner on areas he wants to improve as a player: 

“I am one of the hardest workers I know. I will always be either in the gym or in the film room, looking for ways to keep getting better.  This (hard work) allowed me to make myself the player I am today.  I have been referred to as what is known as a ‘glue’ guy.  I love making other players better when I play with them.  I am very competitive, make good decisions, can play multiple roles, and I am still getting better.  I am still working hard to be as complete a player as possible.”

Tanner on areas of his game he wants to improve:

“There will be a lot of big changes from the college to the pro game, more than just the space you need to cover.  The length and athleticism of players at the next level is something I will need to adjust to.  I pride myself on being a solid defender, especially since it was considered a weakness of mine coming into college.  I plan on just working on every part of my game, and look forward to the chance to show people what I am capable of.”


Tanner on how he envisions his immediate role at the next level:

“Like I said earlier, I enjoy being a ‘glue’ guy, and I think I am capable of adjusting to fit any mold a coach could want.  I can come in and play, as well as guard, any of the perimeter positions.  I know I will never be a shot blocker, but I focus on what I can do well.  Whatever a team needs, I will give it to them.  I am a good teammate, and look forward to going wherever this takes me.”


Tanner on his pre-draft training:

“Right now, I am training in Chicago with Josh Oppenheimer, and before this I had spent some time in Indianapolis training with Ed Schilling.  Working with 2 different trainers has allowed me to pick up a lot of different things, knowing what I do well and where I still need to put in extra work.  Also, it is a lot of fun to work out and compete against a lot of great players going through the same process.  I am still finalizing what teams I will work out for, but I will make sure I am ready at any point to go and compete.  There are no days off.  I take a lot of pride in my work ethic and we’ll just see what happens.”

Tanner on Tanner’s Totes

“When I was 2, my father was diagnosed with cancer, and he received bone-marrow transplant.  About a year after this, while he was recovering, he was diagnosed with what is called graft-versus-host diseases.  Basically, the white blood cells that were transplanted with the bone marrow started to attack his white blood cells.  I had been spending a lot of my early life in and out of hospitals.  When I was in the 4th grade, I had an assignment called ‘If I Had Three Wishes.’  My first wish was a golden retriever, and my parents gave me one.  My second wish was to be a professional basketball player, and I am right on the edge of making that happen.  But my third wish was to help kids with cancer.  After another year or so, I told my parents that this was something I still wanted to do, so they sat with me and drew up a plan for what became Tanner’s Totes.  To this day, we have been able to donate over 3,700 tote bags, to 45 different hospitals in over 20 states.  It is something that is special to me, and I will continue my work wherever I may end up.”


Tanner on what he wants teams and fans to know about him:

“I am a player you know will show up and do everything that is asked of him, and more.  On and off the court, I take pride in how I carry myself.  I will come in and work hard, and play hard, day in and day out.  I enjoy being a great teammate, and I will do whatever it takes to make those around me, as well as my team, successful.”

I want to thank Tanner for his time and I wish him the best of luck as he looks to fulfill his dream of being a professional basketball player.  It is easy to look at Tanner and know what a quality person he is, and when you have the chance to speak to him, he even passes those expectations.  However, in doing that, you are also very liable to miss a very good basketball player.  Going back and watching film of him over the last 4 years, the constant improvement is very visible, and I have no doubts that he still has a lot more to show.  No matter where Tanner gets to finish his career, whatever team, group of teammates, and the community itself, will be very lucky to have him as part of it.


Also, I encourage everyone to please check out the Tanner’s Totes website ( and if you can, learn more about it, help spread the word, and get involved in any way you can.


Check back in the coming weeks for more great interviews and scouting reports as we head towards the 2012 NBA Draft.  Follow me on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog – for updates, leave your comments below, or feel free to email me at [email protected]

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