Mizzou star Dru Smith is back in Indiana for March Madness. How he got here and what's next

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

Missouri redshirt senior Dru Smith has been known throughout his time in Columbia for his calm and collected demeanor no matter the situation. 

That trait didn't start under the tutelage of Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin, nor in Smith's previous college stop at Evansville, his hometown school. Smith has been equipped to put the blinders on for as long as he's been in the spotlight.

Several years ago, as a premier Indiana prep basketball standout for Reitz High School, a younger Smith showed his composure during a game against Terre Haute South.

His high school coach, Michael Adams, will never forget what happened.

"It's a competitive game and there was a collision where kids were on the floor. And one of the South kids did something really dirty. As he got up, he kind of pushed Dru's face into the floor. It was really dirty," Adams told the Tribune during a phone interview this week. "And most kids would have gotten up and probably started fighting.

"Dru, understanding the game, time and situation, just got up, walked away from it. He goes to the free-throw line with composure — didn't act like anything wrong happened — hits both free throws. And then he's at the top of our (defensive) pressure. It's like they pissed him off. I mean, as good as he was playing, he played even better. And that's how he made his statement, through his play. And you tell kids, 'Let your game do the talking.' Well, that's easier said than done for some kids.

"But Dru got that. He just lets his game do the talking."

Evansville Reitz High School senior Dru Smith (2) takes a shot while players behind him keep eyes on the ball during the Indiana boys junior All-Stars vs. senior All-Stars game on June 7, 2016, in Bloomington, Ind.

Dru Smith returns to Indiana for March Madness

Fast forward to present day, Smith is back in his native Hoosier State as an integral part of Missouri men's basketball, about to play in his first NCAA Tournament game, only hours from Evansville.

As he leads the No. 9 seed Tigers into battle against No. 8 seed Oklahoma on Saturday night from Lucas Oil Stadium, he's still that even-keeled guy.

After his game-winning reverse layup against Florida on March 3, he barely acknowledged the swish and ran back on defense.

More:What to know as Mizzou basketball enters NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma

When an officiating review took away his go-ahead basket in the closing moments of a showdown against Arkansas on Feb. 13, he got back in formation to try again.

As he drew a critical charge on national player of the year contender Ayo Dosunmu to help clinch the Tigers' third straight Braggin' Rights victory over Illinois on Dec. 12, the 6-foot-3 Smith celebrated, but only for a moment, until the final whistle. 

Missouri guard Dru Smith (12) dribbles against Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi (25) during a game Jan. 23 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.

"Dru is a man of character, like I always say. He's a real chill, laid-back guy," Missouri senior center Jeremiah Tilmon said. "He's not the one that's going to want to do too much and just be all extra. ... He's a man of character and that takes him a long way.

"I feel like he has earned a lot of respect just off he how he carries himself, how he works and how he moves."

Smith's family doesn't have to travel far to watch perhaps the biggest game of his career. As a junior at Reitz, he did compete in a state championship game. 

Indiana high school basketball is respected nationally in the same vein as Texas high school football or Minnesota high school hockey. Some high school crowds Smith competed in front of will be larger than the socially distant crowd inside the home of the Indianapolis Colts. 

The NCAA Tournament he grew up watching isn't exactly like what he is experiencing in Indianapolis, where teams are living in a bubble and all 67 games in the tournament are taking place in central Indiana.

Missouri guard Dru Smith (12) leaves the court after warmups before a game against LSU on March 6 at Mizzou Arena.

There would be nothing wrong with being emotive and Smith wearing his heart on his sleeves. But those are not the mellow tendencies that have made him successful. 

"I don't know, honestly. I have no clue. No, my family's not like that at all. I can promise you that," Smith said of where his calm roots come from. "I'm definitely like the odd one whenever we're out. I'm not too loud and drawing all the attention."

Smith has built his reputation on the court through consistency at both ends.

On offense, Smith is tied for the Tigers' scoring lead with 14.1 points per game alongside Xavier Pinson. The guard also has 51 steals, a 44% field-goal percentage and an 83% free-throw rate.

More:What to know about Oklahoma, Mizzou basketball's NCAA Tournament opponent

Mizzou vs. Oklahoma: Dru Smith has a tough assignment in Austin Reaves

Against Oklahoma, he draws a tough defensive assignment, guarding the Sooners' best player in Austin Reaves, whom Smith has known for years. 

Both Reaves and Smith aren't playing for their original college destinations. Both started in the Missouri Valley Conference, with Reaves at Wichita State and Smith playing for Evansville.

University of Evansville's Dru Smith (12) drives through the lane against Indiana State on Jan. 17, 2018, at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.

Reaves is the first Oklahoma player to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists per game at the same time, unlike other Sooners greats such as Blake Griffin and Trae Young.

"We've grown a lot, both of us," Reaves said of the reunion with Smith. "... He's a really good player. The coaching staff has kept saying that over and over again, about how he affects the game in a lot of different aspects. He can score, he can rebound, he facilitates, plays defense. So he's really an all-around player. And then just the comparison, I feel like it's really similar with us. We do a lot of the same things. And I believe that we really just try to contribute to the team to help get a win."

'Cold blooded!!':Mizzou basketball fans love Dru Smith's game-winner vs. Florida Gators

Where will Dru Smith go after the NCAA Tournament?

Smith likely won't play another college basketball game outside the state of Indiana. This is his fifth season on a Division I squad, and Martin has mentioned in the past how there needs to be a legitimate school-based reason for any senior to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Regularly on broadcasts of Missouri games, a commentator will bring up Smith's desire to be a wealth manager. But that doesn't mean he's ready to hang it up for good at the end of the tournament.

"I definitely want to try to keep playing basketball," Smith said. "I hear plenty of people telling me that. That's one of their favorite things to say. So it probably does seem like I don't want to play basketball. But yeah, I'm going to keep trying to play and see where that takes me first."

More:Dru Smith, Tilmon first All-SEC pair for Mizzou basketball since 2014

Smith's effort has never come into question despite his calm nature, and that may be why he's played upward of 100 more minutes this season than any other Tiger. 

Now, Smith's unfazed persona will be seen by a larger audience, two hours from Evansville, a community that already knows how his lack of outbursts can lead to success.

Evansville Reitz High School's Dru Smith (12) drives around New Albany's Romeo Langford to score during their 4A regional championship game March 12, 2016, in Seymour, Ind.

"If you talked to any of my players through the years, I think they would say that one staple that really sticks out is to be a great teammate," Adams said. "And there's a lot of different ways you can display that. And I think Dru Smith got that better probably than anybody. I've had a lot of great kids. But he really got it.

"He was a leader on the floor. He was a leader in the locker room, he was an ambassador in the school. You couldn't find a teacher that didn't like him or would say anything bad about him. He knew how to communicate to the adults and how to carry himself in the cafeteria, in the halls. He's almost like, I hate to say, too good to be true. He was just such an impactful person."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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