Zhaire Smith made his professional debut Friday night, logging 15 minutes in the Delaware Blue Coats’ loss to the Maine Red Claws.
Saturday, he sat in front of a podium, asked to reflect on everything that’s happened to him since he was acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade.
“If I had to look back, it was just a long journey,” he said. “Just a long journey.”
Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, then endured serious medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction in September to sesame, per a team source (see story).
The 6-foot-4 Smith said that his weight dropped as low as 164 pounds.
He’s now weighing in at 206 pounds, he says, which is actually higher than the 199 he’s listed at in the Sixers’ media guide.
“I’ve been eating right and drinking my protein shakes,” the 20-year-old Smith said.
According to Smith, he’ll play the rest of the Blue Coats’ season. Delaware’s last regular-season game is on March 23. And after that?
“Only time will tell,” Smith said. “I’m not sure yet. Taking it day by day.”
Head coach Brett Brown acknowledged that, at one point, Smith’s medical situation was “deeper than concerning.”
As to whether Smith will join the Sixers once the Blue Coats’ season is over, Brown shared the rookie’s outlook. One rusty game from Smith — which Brown said he hasn’t had a chance to watch yet — won’t sway his opinion on whether he’ll bring Smith into the fold for the Sixers this year.
I hope so. It’s a judgement as this thing unfolds. We’re all going to figure out at what level is he playing at. To me, the exciting part is he’s playing basketball again. I believe he shared with you the weight he lost and the weight he put back on. It’s good to be 20. It really is a remarkable story. … We’ll watch how he plays down in Delaware and then be responsible with the decision on do we bring him up.
The first of the Blue Coats’ final 11 regular-season contests is Monday at 7 p.m., against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware.
Smith could wind up being an athletic perimeter defender for the Sixers in the playoffs, an unlikely spark off the bench. Or he could wait until next season to make his NBA debut. Either way, Smith and everyone who cares about him are just happy now with the fact that he’s back on the court.
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