TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – NBA Rookie of the Year candidate, Jabari Smith Jr. recently took time out of his busy schedule to interview with the University of Alabama’s Student Section on WVUA 90.7 The Capstone.

Only in his rookie year, Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. is already making a name for himself in the NBA. After being limited by early injuries to start his career, Smith has turned a corner and has helped revive a struggling Rockets franchise. Over the past 19 games, Smith has averaged nearly 14.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists on 47% shooting. Even more impressive, Smith has been able to put up those numbers post NBA’s All-Star weekend. Where he was named a Jordan Rising Star, a selection of the top rookies and sophomores in the NBA. “An experience, I’ll never forget,” Smith told WVUA 90.7. “It was fun just because that’s something I’ve been watching since I was five years old. So just being a part of it, being in the same hotel with other all-stars like Dame Lillard walking around was crazy to me.”

Smith has come a long way since his days at Auburn where he led the Tigers to an SEC Championship with a 28-6 record under Head Coach Bruce Pearl. During his time, Smith showed his massive skillset on both sides of the ball as well as his leadership abilities that helped lead Auburn into round sixteen of March Madness. Although he didn’t win the national championship, Smith performed so well that some official NBA Draft experts had him potentially going first overall in the 2022 draft. He ultimately ended up being selected third to the Houston Rockets.

From a team that made the Western Conference Finals four years ago, to a team that had the worst record in the NBA, Smith was coming into a tough situation. “It (the transition from college) is very different, but it’s still basketball. There are a lot of different aspects mentally at this level. The players are obviously better, but the attention to detail is the biggest difference.” said Smith. Having to guard the world’s best basketball players is a hard task, but it can only be harder when you’re in your first year. From role players to star players the talent gap from college is highly noticeable. “The toughest players for me are either between Giannis, Joel Embiid, or … Paul George,” said Smith. “Just how simple their games are, they’re not gonna do too much. They don’t do anything out of character and just let the game come to them. They can pretty much do anything.”

Looking to improve his game, Smith is always trying to learn from others who have been in a similar situation. “Our team is so young, so there’s been a bunch of guys telling me different things,” said Smith. In addition to his young teammates, Smith also has had help from former Rockets players. “James Harden, reached out when he was here. He’s such a legend to the city and I’ve talked to Hakeem Olajuwon,” said Smith.

While the Rockets are likely still years away from contending for a championship, Smith still hasn’t stopped paying attention to the rest of the league. For his finals prediction, Smith has the Denver Nuggets coming out of the west. “I feel like with a healthy Michael Porter Jr, KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) who has a championship… and adding Reggie Jackson too, I think makes this team so whole. You have to keep in mind how long they’ve been playing together and how well they’ve been clicking lately. The West is tough though, there are a lot of good teams.” said Smith. In the east, no surprise Smith picked the Milwaukee Bucks who recently are coming off a sixteen-game win streak. Both teams are currently first in their respective conference with each team having a candidate for the NBA’s MVP award. Denver Nuggets center Nikolia Jokíc currently in first, and Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo is third on NBA.com’s MVP Ladder. To end the interview, the Rockets rookie gave WVUA his MVP candidates. “Jayson Tatum, Giannis, Luka, Jokic for sure, and Joel Embiid for sure. Those are my top five candidates.” Smith told WVUA 90.7.

“To think about a year ago a guy like Jabari Smith Jr. coming on our show, I would call you crazy,” said Sports Director Garrett Franks.

“Not only to see the growth of the station but the growth in the people we have working for our station. I also think it’s funny we were able to have arguably Auburn’s second-best player of all time come on an Alabama student radio station. I think it shows the connections we’ve made, and the personal connection we’ve established is really solid.” Co-Host of the Student Section, Connor Rowles who has a personal relationship with the NBA player said, “Being able to interview a star athlete was really cool especially this one because growing up we would talk about our futures and have conversations on how we could help each other out when he’s in the league, and I further my sports media career. I also find it hilarious that we were able to steal an Auburn fan favorite and have him come on an Alabama radio show. Hopefully, we can get him to come back on the show.”


Link to (On-Air) interview: