In what might well be their final meeting on a basketball court, Mitch Smith and Mike Smith ended their lengthy rivalry Saturday afternoon in the Marriott Center just about the way one would expect: with a flurry of points and rebounds, hard play and even a little jaw ing and spilled blood.
That's the way it's been for three years.On Saturday, BYU defeated Utah 81-74, which seemed like a fair and fitting end. In their six matchups, Mike claimed three wins, and Mitch claimed three. Anyone for a rematch?
Well, there's always the WAC tournament, although neither is particularly anxious for a rematch.
"I don't want to play him again," said Mitch. "He just scored 30 points on us."
If you throw out Marty Haws, Smith & Smith nearly turned Saturday's in-state rivalry into their own game of one-upmanship. The Utah Smith, forgetting for the moment a disappointing senior season, had 24 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal; the BYU Smith had 30 points, 12 rebounds, one assist and two steals.
And then they parted with a handshake. Some rivals go their ways grumbling - the way Tom Chambers left the Marriott Center for the last time cursing the name of Danny Ainge. There was none of that this time.
"If I were a coach, he could play for me," said Mike. "It would be great to have him in the frontcourt with me."
On the court they were actually, get this, apologizing to each other. At one point, when Mike saw Mitch disputing a foul call, Mike yelled, "You know you got me, Mitch!" Later, they were both saying, "Hey, sorry about that . . . "
What next? Double dating?
Probably not. The Smiths have little in common. Oh, their names are the same, and so are their initials. And their careers have followed similar paths. They both started as freshmen, although when Mitch arrived on the scene Mike was on a church mission. They met for the first time as sophomores, and both have been named all-conference and all-district in the two years since.
There all similarities end.
"They're a great matchup, but they're different types of players," says BYU Coach Ladell Andersen. And different types of people.
Mike Smith: He preens, he scowls, he points, he shouts, he hams, he talks, he exults, he plays up to the fans (or throws basketballs to them), he fusses with his uniform, he mugs for cameras, he saunters up the court. He's a white Fennis Dembo. He never met a microphone he didn't like. He's a reporter's best friend. He doesn't need a PR agent, because he's got himself. "Not bad," he was saying to a reporter Saturday, pointing at the stat sheet. "30 points, 12 rebounds. That's all-world!"
And Mitch Smith: He hustles, he works, he's silent, he's all business, he's blue collar, he's unspectacular, he's anything but colorful or cocky. (To wit: "I'm never matched up with Mike. I never will be unless I get a lot quicker.")
Where Mike Smith jogs, Mitch Smith sprints. Where Mitch is focused, Mike's attention comes and goes. Where Mike plays outside, Mitch is inside. Where Mike is a scorer, Mitch is a rebounder.
"He's a finesse player, I'm a garbage player," says Mitch.
When basketball types discuss Mitch Smith, they use words like scrappy, hustle, heart, battler, intense. When they discuss Mike Smith, the word hustle doesn't even come up. But these do: talented, smooth, athletic, textbook shooter, unstoppable with the ball. When they discuss Mitch Smith, the word talented never comes up.
"Mike Smith is the best player in the league - easily," says Utah Coach Lynn Archibald. Comparing the two, Archibald said, "Mitch uses all his tools. Mike's got so many tools he doesn't know how to use them all."
The rap on Mike Smith is that he, well, loafs, especially on defense, but Archibald answers this, saying, "He played hard against us," and it was true. He even got a bloodied lip for his trouble. "Good players know when to turn it on," said Archibald.
Mitch Smith has had his own bad rap to deal with. "He's gotten a bad rap," says Mike. "I hear around here (at BYU) that he's a dirty player, but it's just because he plays so hard. He's not dirty."
Smith & Smith are now winding up their careers, and again, in different fashion. Mike is averaging a flashy 26 points a game, and he's a certain All-America pick, if not a first-round NBA draft pick. Mitch's senior season has fallen short of his performance in past years. "I haven't played that well," he says. He's averaging some 14 points a game, but his problems are partly attributable to a team that is out of synch and lacking solid play on the guardline. Still, all that aside, Mitch Smith suddenly was able to call up his best game of the year Saturday. As his coach said, "The good ones know when to turn it on."