By ANDY WOLF
Chart out any player’s four-year arc and it’s rare to not find any growth.
Trey Smith said he’d be lying if he wasn’t looking forward to his senior year on the University of Findlay men’s basketball team.
The former walk-on is now leading the No. 8-ranked Oilers at 31.2 minutes per game.
Smith, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound combo guard, only played 29 minutes his entire freshman season.
“I just really thank the coaches for giving me the opportunity,” Smith said. “They didn’t really look at me as a walk-on when I came in and obviously they don’t now.”
Smith is also one of two seniors on a UF squad that’s 19-3 overall and in first place in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference at 13-2.
“That was a must-win game for us,” Smith said.
The Oilers hope to continue their roll of five straight wins 7:30 p.m. today at Lake Erie College (14-8, 9-5) in their only GMAC game this week.
After UF graduated four starters from last year’s second-straight Sweet 16 team, Smith has thrived in the starting lineup at both ends.
He’s now ninth in the GMAC in minutes per game and one of 18 players in the conference playing at least 30 minutes a night.
Smith is one of four UF starters in double figures at 11.3 points per game and is second with 73 assists.
But he isn’t your typical walk-on who came out of nowhere.
Smith was on UF coach Charlie Ernst’s radar in recruiting and still came to campus to earn his own scholarship.
According to Ernst, it only took him one semester to prove his worth on his everyday practice competitiveness.
“I didn’t even need another year to realize I didn’t want him to leave,” Ernst said.
Smith got thrown into the fire as a sophomore, getting his redshirt burnt after two starters went down to season-ending injuries. One of those was now-senior forward Alex White (17.3 ppg).
He quickly earned his reputation as a defensive pest between his sophomore and junior years — tallying 70 steals in 58 games.
His defensive tenacity is still prevalent, starting next to similarly-minded sophomore point guard Tommy Schmock (132 assists).
As the scoring opportunities increased, so has his efficiency at 45.6 percent shooting overall and 42.5 percent from 3-point range (48 of 113).
“I had to remind myself going into this year that I can’t settle here,” he said.
His transition into a scorer from a fifth-option shooter as a sophomore was only a matter of time and equally vital to the team’s success.
“I knew my role my sophomore year but that doesn’t mean I was just OK with my role being a defensive player,” Smith said. “I always wanted to be that guy.”
Still, one of Smith’s largest roles is to take on the tough defensive assignments.
Lake Erie junior guard Gabe Kynard (18.0 ppg) is third in the GMAC in scoring and fifth in minutes per game (32.6 mpg).
Kynard has been the Storm’s go-to guy for the past two seasons, shooting 47.5 percent both times and is now up to 41.8 percent (46 of 110) from 3-point range — a growth from 35.7 percent last season.
“Gabe is playing really well right now,” Smith said. “… He does a really good job both with the ball and without the ball.
“I get excited for those matchups. I try not to shy away from them.”
The Storm are 9-3 at home this season.
They fell 76-73 to Ohio Dominican at home last Thursday and rebounded to top Ohio Valley 93-64.
While Lake Erie is the third-worst shooting team in the GMAC (42.3 percent) they’ve topped 45 percent in all but one game since Jan. 1.
Other key scorers include 6-1 junior guard Erron James (10.2 ppg), 6-5 senior forward Brogan Scott (8.2 ppg) and 6-7 sophomore forward Lamont Rhodes (7.7 ppg)
Findlay’s women’s basketball team will be in action twice this week.
The Oilers (15-6, 11-5) first travel to Lake Erie College (11-10, 8-8) for a game 5:30 p.m. today and conclude their week at Ursuline (8-14, 7-9) 2 p.m. Saturday.
UF is coming off its worst loss of the season — a 21-point defeat at Hillsdale last Saturday in which it surrendered a season-high 88 points.
The Oilers have, otherwise, boasted one of the stingiest defenses in the league at 62.5 ppg (third).
UF senior forward and GMAC leading scorer Anna Hintz (19.0 ppg) has topped 20 points in four of her last five and has 11 such games his season.
Lake Erie is paced by junior guards Josie Chaddock (13.7 ppg) and Farrah Benner (12.2).
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