Formerly one of Iona's most feared shooters, Kyle Smyth is striking similar feelings in opponents for Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
Last year, he was the third guard behind Scott Machado and Momo Jones at Iona, a dangerous shooter who would make you pay if you left him open. His proficiency from beyond the arc was such that he was an integral part of the Gaels' NCAA Tournament run. Having redshirted in his freshman season, the New Jersey native was able to graduate and play somewhere else immediately with one year of eligibility left over. This past summer, he reunited with his former coach, and is already paying dividends.
When Kyle Smyth transferred to Seton Hall from Iona, the move was criticized in part because the Pirates welcomed another shooter to a team desperate for a point guard in the wake of Jordan Theodore's graduation and Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs' denial by the NCAA of a hardship waiver that would have enabled him to play this season. Smyth was familiar with Pirates coach Kevin Willard, who coached him at Iona in his redshirt year and as a freshman the following season, and the already established relationship was definitely a factor in the decision to come to South Orange over a number of other suitors interested in his services.
"Any time you have familiarity with a system, or anything, I think that can make it (the transition) a little smoother," Smyth said when I caught up with him following Seton Hall's 78-65 victory over Norfolk State Monday night, one in which the senior scored 14 points off the bench on four three-pointers and a pair of free throws. "They (my teammates) make me look a lot better, so I have to give them all the credit."
Having covered Smyth last season during Iona's magical journey into the field of 68, I told several Seton Hall fans that they would love him instantly, feelings that have since been validated by the Pirate brethren. His performance three nights ago was a vintage Smyth outing for those who had seen his past work in New Rochelle, a quick and painless sniping from long range that was one of the biggest reasons why Seton Hall went into halftime with the lead against a Norfolk State team that outplayed the Pirates in the opening minutes, looking more like the team that upset Missouri in last year's NCAA Tournament than a MEAC squad normally does against an opponent from the Big East. Within seconds, Smyth had six of his fourteen points to extend Seton Hall's advantage and put the visiting Spartans on the ropes.
"Not only does he shoot the basketball, but he does so many little things right on the court," said Willard, now in his third year at the helm of the Pirates since replacing Bobby Gonzalez following a 2009-10 season in which Seton Hall won nineteen games and appeared in the NIT for the school's first postseason berth since 2006. "He's a kid that every coach would want to have on his team. He's the ultimate teammate, and that's why I love him."
Willard's description could not be any further from the truth, as his new shooting guard was a truly unselfish teammate Monday night. Smyth may have been the third-leading scorer in Seton Hall's victory, but he has no problem being overshadowed by the double-doubles posted by star swingman Fuquan Edwin and bruising power forward Eugene Teague. "This isn't my team," Smyth said after the game. "My job as a leader is more so on the court, making sure guys are always on their toes."
Smyth's role as a leader also includes his past experience, for better or worse; which has a glittering headline that no one else on the Seton Hall roster can possess, that being the aforementioned NCAA Tournament appearance for Iona last season. Yes, the one in which the Gaels led Brigham Young 49-24 at one point in the first half before watching their lead and dreams of a win on college basketball's greatest stage fall apart in the closing minutes as the Cougars pulled away at the end for a 78-72 comeback victory. When I asked one of the newest Pirates about that, he was enthusiastic about sharing the experience, and optimistic about the future.
"Explaining to them what it was like makes them hungrier," he said when recounting the first time he told his teammates of the fairy tale that emanated from Westchester County eight months ago. "My goal is to get back there."
Seton Hall faces long odds to even be a bubble team based on their preseason predictions, but one thing has almost always been constant in recent years. The Pirates have usually defied their critics and finished higher than their prognostications every season, and if Kyle Smyth keeps torching the nets the way he has over the last several years, Seton Hall could be this year's St. John's or USF, the guy no one expected to show up to the dance. Maybe they'll even leave better off than they were coming in.