After a first season (2017-18) that ended with him averaging 23 points in the College Basketball Invite title and tournament MVP honors, then-sophomore guard Roosevelt “Rose” Smart Jr’s first impression at North Texas did not go unrecognized in the eyes of his coaches and teammates. It was a season that ended with Smart establishing the second-best free percentage in school history, shooting 88.8 percent at the line. His feats from beyond the arc had him ranked second all-time in Mean Green history in made 3-pointers with 133, breaking a single-season school record.
Unfortunately, every rose has its thorns, and the now-senior has experienced his fair share of life obstacles. During his junior year, Smart tore a muscle in his calf in preseason practice leading up to the team’s first game. This caused him to miss the first seven games of the year. Once he returned to the floor, he struggled to regain his form. After averaging 19.5 points per game in 33.5 minutes of play in his first season with the Mean Green, Smart saw his numbers decrease to 10.7 points on 29.7 minutes last season. It should also be noted that North Texas had five guards averaging over 10 points per game last year and each one receiving 25 minutes or more.
“I think he had a really good year and then I mean, as everyone knows scouting reports come out and it got all harder for him, and then we had good players too,” redshirt senior guard DJ Draper said. “It’s not technically that he’s not as good of a player, it’s just we have so many other guys who also can score for themselves.”
Going into this year, North Texas added more perimeter players with the offseason additions of JUCO guards Javion Hamlet and James Reese. With the competition for minutes, Smart made sure to do whatever he could to stay healthy entering the year so he could play meaningful minutes this season.
“Teams change,” head coach Grant McCasland said. “I think our program has gotten more depth. When we first got here, Rose really needed to be a scorer because it was our best chance to win and because of who we were playing. He was a primary option for what we needed. Now we just have more of a balanced attack.”
However, Smart’s plans of playing were put on hold. On Oct. 2, 2019, Smart was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated and was released after posting a $1,500 bond.
This changed Smart’s outlook for the year as he was suspended for the team’s first six games of the season. Smart knew the only thing he could do was learn and move on from it.
“I just owned up to it,” Smart said. “I got a lot of great people … my friends, family, coaches and teammates that were supporting and being behind me. It was a mistake and I know it’s a mistake, so I’m just moving forward from it.”
McCasland laid out his thoughts regarding Smart’s DUI and the evolution of Smart’s role on the team.
“There’s a lot of things in life that you got to learn from and for us, we’ve moved on from it,” McCasland said. “I know there are always consequences to what happens and it’s just how you respond to it from there. It makes you value and appreciate every opportunity because it can be taken away from you. [Smart]’s going to get better because of it, not let it spiral him and that’s where I give him a lot of credit. He’s handled everything that we’ve asked him to do and he’s decided that he’s going to do everything he can to help the team first and that’s hard to do, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
With the lineup already set to start the season, Smart found himself having to earn minutes. The guard returned on Nov. 24 where the Mean Green were defeated at the hands of the Utah State Aggies 68-59. Smart played 14 minutes in that game and recorded five points with two rebounds.
As this year went along, Smart, Draper and junior forward Thomas Bell were regarded as the team’s main bench rotation. Out of those three, Smart currently receives the least amount of minutes, averaging 12 per game. He’s averaging 3.4 points per game.
Smart ultimately figured that in order to play, he had to ditch his role as a scorer and accept a new identity on the defensive end.
“I’m human, so I definitely got upset multiple times,” Smart said. “But by talking to my teammates and my coaches, I figured out the best way for me to stay on the floor was to get stops, so that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on.”
Draper, who played with Smart for the past three seasons, believes Smart’s willingness to change helped inspire his teammates.
“It’s just a testament of how good of a player he is and how good of a teammate he is because it really does take a lot of mental toughness to go through the things that he’s gone through,” Draper said.
When looking back at his decision to reduce Smart’s role, McCasland believes Smart has handled it well and hopes it translates outside of basketball.
“He’s just handled it remarkably well and it’s been a process like everything is,” McCasland said. “But Rose’s best days are ahead of him and I think this will help him, in the long run, be a great basketball player — but more importantly, just become a better man. Ultimately a better husband, a better father and things that are really important in the long run. It may not seem like it’s all that fun right now, but there are some great strides that Rose is taking as a person.”
Despite the new role this year, Smart has achieved personal success in his first two seasons. His 742 total points in 2017 broke the school record for a single-season and placed him No. 15 in the nation.
“For those individual stats … they’re good,” Smart said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a lot of great players but at the end of the day, I just want to win.”
Those accomplishments were brought to light again this season as Smart was met with heavy cheers when honored before facing Old Dominion for Senior Day on Feb. 15. The cheers were even louder when Smart came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer, helping his team extend the lead and get the win to close out the regular season.
“I thought I was 2017 Rose again,” Smart said jokingly after the game. “It was just good seeing those guys be so happy for me when I made the three in the corner, and just all the emotions and to have my mom in the stands watching me too. To leave this place, I want to go out with a conference championship, so that’s the ultimate goal at the end of the day and we definitely have the right pieces to do that.”
Featured Image: Senior guard Roosevelt Smart flexes muscles after the Mean Green score against Louisiana Tech on Feb. 22, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas