With the NBA All-Star Weekend getting underway Friday and March Madness right around the corner, TNT basketball analyst KENNY SMITH has a hectic schedule ahead of him. In addition to calling NBA and college basketball games for Turner, the proud Univ. of North Carolina alum is busy promoting Coke Zero's "Enjoy More Madness" campaign, which gives fans the opportunity to win free mobile and digital NCAA March Madness Live access packages and the chance to win a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. Smith recently took some time away from his busy schedule to discuss the "Linsanity" craze, his favorite part about All-Star Weekend and who his favorite teams and players are in March Madness.
Q: What are your thoughts on Linsanity? Do you think the length of the hype around Jeremy Lin is media driven?
Smith: No, I think it’s talent driven. First of all, I think Jeremy has proved that he has the talent and the skills. I’ve been saying this for a couple of weeks now, to be a good coach or GM in the NBA you don’t really have to be great at Xs and Os. You don’t really have to be a great people person, but you have to be a great evaluator of talent. That’s first and foremost. And I think Jeremy Lin has proven that his talent wasn’t evaluated correctly. … Every part of the underdog he has been. No one has been every part. We’ve all been pieces of it, but he’s the guy that’s been every part. That’s why it’s been so consuming because everyone can relate.
Q: What is it like working with SHAQUILLE O'NEAL? Has the dynamic of the show changed?
Smith: No, I don’t think the dynamic has changed at all. I told Shaq when he first got there "hey this is the first time in your life you’re not the most dominant player on the team, you don’t have to be. Just come in, have fun, we already know our roles, we know what we are good at and you can just add to it." And he’s done that, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Q: Do you think the condensed season has affected the level of play, injuries or the players' drive?
Smith: I don’t believe so, and there are people that do believe that, but I don’t. I really don’t believe that there are any excuses. I think that every year there are really good players that get hurt. I think every year, good players twist their ankles and every year, bad players get hurt and twist their ankles. And I don’t see there’s more. Unless there’s a statistic that backs that up, I don’t think that there are more injuries this year than there have been in the past. ... I think the guys are playing at the same level, there are blowout nights and there are regular nights.
Q: What is your favorite event of All-Star Weekend?
Smith: All-Star weekend is not about an event for me. It’s about everything around it. It’s about the dunk contest, the 3-point (event), the game, the things around it, the jam session, the parties, everything about All-Star Weekend is what makes it. You walk into Orlando, if you’re a basketball fan and it’s like your trading cards are walking around you. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s like past, present and future all at one time.
Q: NBA Ratings are up 24% on TNT. Did you expect that with the delayed season?
Smith: I’ve just gotta get a raise is what that means. But I think that people like competition. You look at the NCAA tournament, people don’t care that Appalachian State is playing Duke or North Carolina, they care about the competition. They don’t care that they’re Appalachian State or some obscure schools that come out of these obscure conferences that don’t get the television converage, they don’t care that they don’t have LEBRON JAMES, they just want to see an upset or competition. That’s what drives people to watch.
Q: Do you and the guys have any pre-show ritual on TNT?
Smith: First of all, CHARLES (BARKLEY) and I have sat in the same seat for the last 12 years off the set in the green room. No one is allowed to sit in our seats. I go around and I give every single person ... a fist bump, it’s like 40 people. I did it one time when I first started, my first year or two. And the producer came to me after the show and said, "Man that was a great show, that was our best show we’ve ever had." So from there I was like, "Ya know what, that’s my routine." My basketball thing is whatever works, we’re gonna stay with.
Q: Who are your top five teams in NCAA men's basketball going into March Madness?
Smith: I’m kind of ACC driven because of North Carolina. ... We have a great team this year, and Kentucky is great, and that school in Durham. I never say their name, they know how to get it done, to win six games. You have to look at it that way, you can’t look at it as a tournament. ... The big three right now are Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, then after that it’s up in the air. Too early to see the Final Four because the Final Four really goes on where you’re seeded, and we don’t know where they’re seeded.
Q: Who are your favorite players to watch right now?
Smith: I like TERRENCE JONES from Kentucky, one of my favorite players; JEREMY LAMB from UConn; and HARRISON BARNES from North Carolina. And AUSTIN RIVERS (from Duke). I like watching Austin Rivers play, I just hope they lose every time they play.