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BYU’S SMITH LEARNS QUICKLY ABOUT BIRD, NBA’S TALENT LEVEL

SHARE BYU’S SMITH LEARNS QUICKLY ABOUT BIRD, NBA’S TALENT LEVEL

Say this for Michael Smith - he's a quick learner.

The Celtics' No. 1 draft pick has been going at it with his new teammates only five days, but already he has received the requisite rookie indoctrination, courtesy of one Larry Bird."Larry made this shot which I couldn't believe," Smith recounted Monday after the morning workout at Hellenic College. "I'm guarding him, and he curls around a pick and Robert Parish comes out to pick him up. He turns his back to the basket and throws up a reverse jump hook."

And?

"It went in, of course, but that's not what stunned me the most," he said. "I couldn't believe no one even flinched. I guess he must do a lot of that."

Smith is a 6-foot-10 forward from BYU who displayed some Bird-like tendencies in college. He led his team in scoring and rebounding and was an adroit passer. When the Celtics chose him No. 13 overall, team president-legend Red Auerbach said, "He's a lot like Larry - I hope."

Smith moved quickly to distance himself from such burdensome and unfair expectations. He's not even thinking along those lines right now as he tries to digest the ways of the NBA.

"I'm just trying to find myself out there," he said. "Everything and everybody seems a step or two quicker, and there's so much talent. But it's about as I expected it would be. I've watched these guys on TV a lot."

The Celtics haven't definitively outlined their plans for Smith, although his logical spot is backing up Bird on the second unit with Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney. That doesn't translate into a lot of minutes if Bird is healthy, which so far appears to be the case.

But Smith isn't impatient. He has a four-year contract and figures to be comfortable well before he thinks about a re-signing.

"It's at least going to take a year, maybe two, before I'll be able to say `hey,"' he said.

The Celtics haven't had a player with Smith's resume since, well, Bird came along in 1979. Smith was an All-Everything in football and basketball at Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights, Calif., where he shattered many of Pat Haden's passing records. He even was all-league volleyball.

At BYU, he started 29 games as a freshman and then went off to Argentina to serve a two-year Mormon mission.

"I don't think that helped my case as an NBA prospect, but I'd do it again in a second," Smith said. "You've been away for two years and everyone says, `What's happened to him? Where'd he go?"'

People soon found out. He averaged 20.1, 21.2 and 26.4 points a game in his last three seasons at BYU. During his junior year, the team won its first 17 games and rose to No. 2 in the country. Last year, it was 14-15.

Still, despite such impressive statistics, Smith wasn't grouped with the elite for the 1989 draft. For whatever reason, the Western Athletic Conference isn't exactly the conference of choice in the NBA, although Smith and Tim Hardaway (UTEP) went 13 and 14 in the draft.

"I don't think there's any question that, if I had put up those numbers at a Big 10 school or an ACC school, I would have got more recognition," Smith said. "But I was conscious of the fact that when I chose BYU, I wasn't going to a school that got a lot of publicity and was on TV. But I figured, if I was good enough, they'd find me."

Smith continued, "It's very hard to recruit at BYU. There are a lot of mixed feelings and misconceptions about things going on there."

Smith developed a rebel-like persona at BYU, prompted, in part, by a spiked haircut and his wearing his drawstring outside his shorts. He also participated in intramural football, that is until basketball Coach Ladell Anderson found out.

"He nearly flipped," Smith said.

Asked about his knack for being, well, different, Smith shrugged.

"If I was wearing something like this," he said, pointing to a gray UTEP hooded sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, "that would bother them there. Or no socks. If that makes me a character, then I guess I'm a character.

"But none of it bothered me. All the rules and regulations at BYU are the same ones I was raised under," he said. "No drinking. No drugs. No premarital sex. Those go hand in hand with the Mormon church and that was how I was raised. So it was no problem."