A Senior Moment

Wquinton Smith (UWBadgers)

Wquinton Smith came to campus with his eyes set on Wisconsin football, but an email one October day changed his life. Four years later, Smith will be one of the six honored on Wisconsin basketball's senior day, and the one that probably will cherish it the most.

MADISON – Before Wisconsin attempts to accomplish the third undefeated home schedule in 10 seasons under Coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers will go about the usual pomp and circumstances known as senior day.

Wisconsin's senior class is as diverse as they come. Jon Leuer has developed into an All-Big Ten performer, Keaton Nankivil is a local product that has played the best basketball of his career, Tim Jarmusz has endured shooting hardships to contribute necessary intangibles like defense and toughness, J.P. Gavinski has contributed daily on scout team and Brett Valentyn has worked his way from a Verona High walk-on to a member of the rotation.

Still, it's hard to argue that senior day will mean more to any of them than it will be to Wquinton Smith.

Smith wasn't recruited by Wisconsin out of high school for a scholarship or for a walk-on spot, yet he'll walk to center court Sunday before No.12 Wisconsin hosts Northwestern and be honored because he is talented, highly appreciated by his teammates and coaches and, most importantly, because he carefully read his email.

"Sunday is going to mean a whole lot to me," said Smith, finishing his fourth year as a walk-on. "I just came from being an average student who worked every day to a student coming from a tryout. I've been blessed to stay on the team and now finally getting minutes. It's been a wonderful journey."

Smith, whose cousin Nick Polk is a Milwaukee Vincent graduate and the former starting free safety at Indiana, considered playing football and basketball at the Division II or III level but after being accepted at UW he entered school with an eye on trying out for the football team next season.

"That was the plan," said Smith, who was a first-team all-conference quarterback at Milwaukee Rufus King and got a lot of his stats by throwing passes to wide receiver Lance Kendricks, finishing his senior season with 1,040 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The plan would not have changed if Smith had a quicker finger. Receiving an email into his University of Wisconsin account, Smith thought it was junk mail and almost sent the unread email into his virtual wastebasket, nearly missing his chance to attend an open tryout for the basketball team.

Playing a pickup game at the SERF, a recreational facility on campus where he played three or four times a week, Smith got wind of the tryout, reread the email and decided to try out, putting himself through ball-handling and shooting drills beforehand.

"I thought this was my chance to finally try to prove myself," Smith said, who was a team captain and averaged 6.1 points and 3.5 assists per game to help King reach the state tournament.

With a spot open on the roster and the Wisconsin coaching staff wanting another scout team player, bringing its total to 16, a campus-wide email was sent out to all male students, inviting them to a one-day open tryout.

The tryout process is simple from the perspective of the coaching staff: put all the hopefuls into a competitive situation to see who can compete, who makes bad decisions, who is just shooting to be seen and which ones look like basketball players.

After that, the coaches organize a scrimmage, where the real contenders separate themselves from the pretenders.

Although he was only a freshman and competing against roughly 40 other players who were upperclassmen, Smith's ball-handling drills paid off. That group was pared down to 10 and then four, but Smith stood out from the beginning.

"A lot of the other guys shot the ball every they touched it, but (Smith) was diving on the floor after balls and taking charges," associate head coach Greg Gard said. "We needed someone to come in and really push Trevon (Hughes) and the others and he had the body type and the energy to make those guys work."

That first season, Smith practiced and dressed for home games, but he didn't travel because of the rule stating only 15 players could travel to a road game. So when the team was away, he hung out in the weight room.

The results have clearly shown. Last September, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Smith set program records for his position on the bench press (310 pounds), the back squat (475 pounds) and the largest improvement on the back squat (144 pounds) during his tenure. To put the back squat number in perspective, Smith can out squat the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Nankivil by 45 pounds.

"I think I was naturally strong, but I never lifted weights until I got here," Smith said. "I guess they brought the strength out of me and it's been history ever since. I've always had the speed being a guard, but the people here really bring the strength out of all of us."

Being Productive

Smith was brought on to provide the UW guards with constant hounding pressure, getting them ready for the physical play of the Big Ten. But while he's gotten other players ready to play and contribute on a consistent basis, Smith has been able to have his moments on the court, as well.

He's played in 33 games, scored his first point his sophomore year after Green Bay and, what he calls his top moment, got the start in this season's opener against Prairie View A&M, posting 1 point, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in a career-high 17 minutes.

Smith was the first four-year non-scholarship player to start for the Badgers since David Burkemper against Michigan on Feb. 27, 1999.

"It was surreal because walk-ons from tryouts aren't expected to play or contribute that much," Smith said. "I've always tried to work hard and that's been my goal, so I would say I've reached my goal. Every day in my head, I try to go hard and play as hard as I can, because Coach Ryan will reward me for doing so."

As much as Smith owes Ryan and his staff for the opportunity, he says the real credit goes to his parents, especially for giving him his unique name. His father is a William, and his sister is a Whitnee. Instead of a William, Jr., though, William and Leatryce Smith settled for putting the W in front of Quinton.

His name is as unique as his game, which packs a big punch despite him being the smallest guy on the team.

"Being here has helped me a lot with time management, trying to be a leader and set examples for other people on the team," Smith said. "That's been the main thing, but it's helped in every aspect of my life."

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