Greg Smith was one of the more surprising players to go unpicked in the 2011 NBA Draft. Being just 20 years old and possessing an NBA-ready frame, it was a bit surprising to see an NBA team not take a flier on the Fresno State rookie sometime during the second round. It might be even more surprising, however, that Smith has decided to begin his professional career in Mexico with Soles de Mexicali in the LNBP.
Smith played two seasons with the Bulldogs before declaring himself as an early-entry candidate for the most recent draft. The reputable sites apparently agreed with this decision as the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center was placed somewhere in the second round of most mock drafts. When all was said and done, however, Smith was passed over so that players like Ater Major, Chukwudibiere Maduabum and Tanguy Ngombo could hear their names called on that Thursday night.
A few months later -- without having the opportunity to find an NBA roster spot via Summer League due to the NBA lockout -- Smith has decided to begin his career south of the border alongside names just as vaguely familiar as those that were selected ahead of him on June 23.
A man by the name of Bobby St. Preux, a 6-foot-5 wing who spent his college career split between Palm Beach Community College and Division 2 Northern Kentucky before taking a couple years off before beginning his professional basketball career, is the league's leading scorer.
Horacio Llamas, the first Mexican player to play in the NBA when he was signed by the Phoenix Suns during the 1996-97, scored three points in Pioneros de Quintana Roo-Cancun's first game. Llamas' Pioneros is presumably the league favorite as the team also employs always-on-the-verge-of-the-NBA Romel Beck as well.
Other names littering rosters that might almost ring a bell to the hardcore hoops fan stateside include Majic Dorsey, Brock Gillespie, Stephen Sir and Anthony Fuqua. I'm only aware of the majority of those names due to their time in the NBA Development League, however.
This isn't to say that the top league in Mexico is a terrible one -- a team I'm familiar with was offering up to $10,000 per month last season to its American imports, its governed by FIBA and the league itself routinely attracts solid coaches; it just seems that Smith seemingly would have had more lucrative offers across the ocean considering his size and raw skills.
I tried several times to contact his agent hoping to learn what made Smith decide to play in Mexico. The call and emails went unanswered, however, leaving me only to assume that either there weren't any better offers available in Europe or that Smith wanted to stay relatively close to home in hopes of a quick end to the lockout (he worked out with the Miami Heat shortly before the lockout began).
Either way, it's a peculiar move considering the import talent that the league typically attracts -- though former Seattle U forward Charles Garcia had a brief stay there last season -- are players who are older and have been through the rigors of professional basketball.