Dorian Finney-Smith led Portsmouth's Norcom High to state championships as a junior and senior. He was the two-time Virginia player of the year and competed at the highest levels of summer basketball.
Billy Donovan wanted him. Gary Williams and Bill Self did, too. But Finney-Smith passed on the offers from Florida, Maryland and Kansas to sign at Virginia Tech, where he was the program’s highest profile recruit since Dell Curry in 1982.
Most freshmen with such credentials, skills and status expect not only playing time but also scoring opportunities. And absent minutes and shots, they’re polarizing the locker room and/or plotting a transfer.
Finney-Smith, a 6-foot-8, 192-pound wing, is the opposite.
“He might be — and I don't want to take anything away from any of the kids I've ever coached — he might be one of the best young people I've ever been around,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said.
But there is a downside.
Finney-Smith is too deferential to teammates, too hesitant to create his own offense, too inclined to shrink when his shots don’t fall.
That was never more evident than in Tech’s 47-45 victory over Virginia on Sunday, when Finney-Smith attempted one shot in 17 minutes, grabbed only one rebound and went scoreless for the third time in five ACC games.
Finney-Smith leads the Hokies, and all ACC freshmen, in rebounding at 7.5 per game. But he’s had only two in the last two games.
A starter since Day One, Finney-Smith averages 6.2 points but has scored only 13 in the last six games. He’s missed 25 of his last 31 shots.
That won’t suffice if Tech (11-7, 1-4 ACC) hopes to recover from a disappointing conference start.
“He's going to get some extra work in,” Greenberg said as the Hokies prepared for Wednesday's home game against Brigham Young. “We'll find more different ways to use him. But he's a facilitator. That's what he is. He's got to work on his mental game. There are some things that we're doing in terms of his release point (on his shot). We're trying to create some match-up situations for him. …
“I want him to compete a little harder defensively, and he needs to get back to the offensive glass. … He's a very good passer. We've got to get him back to rebounding the ball. We've got to get him running a little bit more. I don't need him (forcing) shots, but I need him to be aggressive so he can make other people better.”
Boo Williams, Finney-Smith's long-time AAU coach, understands Greenberg's perspective and used the same word to describe the young man friends call "Dodo."
"Dodo can make the other players around him better," Williams said. "He's not a shot guy. He's totally unselfish. ... He's like Kendall Marshall [another former Williams player]. Kendall Marshall's great at North Carolina because he's throwing it to three (future) pros."
Indeed, Finney-Smith doesn't have the luxury of playing with John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes, which makes it more difficult to incorporate him into an offense.
Finney-Smith has an unusual skill set. He’s tall and shrewd enough to be an effective rebounder, quick and athletic enough to handle, pass and shoot on the perimeter. But he’s also thin, which allows stronger and older opponents to bump him off his preferred spots.
BYU's frontcourt certainly is older and stronger with seniors Brandon Davies (6-9, 235) and Noah Hartsock (6-8, 230).
With Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson averaging a combined 28 points, Finney-Smith needn’t score as he did at Norcom — 18 points per game as a school senior, 19.7 as a junior. But his production needs to be more consistent.
“He's got to be more shot ready,” Greenberg said. “He's got to get his shot off a little quicker. He's going to be special. He's done special things already. … The magic of Dodo is he really gets it. He has a really good feel. … When he gets stronger, he's going to finish a little better around the basket.”
Greenberg said Finney-Smith also must learn consistency of effort. There Finney-Smith could use his older brother as a role model. Ben Finney was a four-year starter at Old Dominion, where he embodied coach Blaine Taylor’s blue-collar approach.
“This is the biggest transition kids have to make from high school,” Greenberg said. “Every (college) game is an event. In high school, you can gear yourself up for certain games. Here you have to gear yourself up for every game.
“I feel really good about him. I know he's a little down, but he's also excited that we won (Sunday), and he's going to be fine.”
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