Jabari Smith returns for basketball camp: 'Auburn is home'

The NBA standout held a free camp Saturday at Loachapoka High School and reflected on what Auburn's basketball program has meant to him

by Jeff Shearer

Jabari Smith Jr. Basketball Camp at Loachapoka High School

AUBURN, Ala. – With the resources available to a budding NBA superstar, Jabari Smith could've spent Saturday anywhere on the planet.

He chose to conduct a free basketball camp for boys and girls at Loachapoka High School, six miles from Neville Arena, where Smith helped Auburn win the 2022 SEC championship.  

"Because Auburn means so much to me," said Smith, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. "I really like to call Auburn home. I wasn't here for long but the relationships I've built, how much fun I had, and how much love I was shown while I was here, it's great for me to give back.

"Auburn is home. It's tattooed on me. This is my family here and I love Auburn. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this community. I wanted to do it here. To have the first one here is a big deal for me. This is a big reason why I am the player I am today and the man I am today."

Smith recruited former teammates, friends and family to help him run the camp, which he plans to expand to his hometown of Atlanta, and Houston, where he recently completed his second season with the Rockets.

"A lot of people who have helped me get to where I am today," Smith said. "Everybody here has been with me along the way."

DSC01192Pure shooter: Jabari Smith improved his FG, 3-point and free-throw percentages in his second NBA season

Smith held two question-and-answer sessions Saturday, one with reporters, and one with campers, who asked about his training regimen growing up, how to get along with teammates, and how to play through injuries.

"I want to remind them to have fun and teach them something along the way," he said. "That gets taken away so much because the pressure is built up, whether it's from the parents or the articles. They have rankings for fifth and sixth graders. I want them to remember to have fun. Camps are a place where you can do that."

Smith, who improved statistically from his rookie season in virtually every category, enjoys competing in the NBA against former Auburn players such as Isaac Okoro, Walker Kessler and Chuma Okeke.

"It's like a little family," he said. "We've built a close relationship through Auburn. Playing against them is cool. You know who they are; they know who you are. Walker was my teammate so it's always fun playing against him.

"Former players still keep up with it, still watch and still come back. That shows how much of a family atmosphere BP has built, and the Auburn program in general."

Standing in front of a backdrop that read "Jabari Smith Jr. Basketball Camp," Smith reflected on his short journey from camper to camp namesake.

"I'm really excited, just to see my name," said Smith, whose father also played in the NBA. "I remember being at my dad's camps. A whole experience for me. I love how it turned out. I love to see the smiles on everybody's faces, the smiles on parents' faces. I think it turned out great. I can't wait to do it again."

DSC01103The night before his camp, Jabari worked out with former Auburn teammate Wendell Green Jr.

On the eve of his camp, Smith worked out with former teammate Wendell Green Jr. Friday night at Neville Arena, already preparing for his third NBA season.

"I set the high standard for myself," he said. "Got a lot of work to do. I'm working on that right now. Working every day to get to where I want to be, get to the playoffs."

Smith relies on his Auburn experience when talking to blue-chip prospects, advising them that playing time and a path to the NBA are only part of the equation under Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.

"If you come here, it's going to be more than that," Smith said. "It's going to be a family atmosphere. You're going to play to win. You're going to play the right way. You're going to play defense and he's going to show the best side of you always.

"He's going to coach you, so it won't be a shock when you get to the league. When you get to the league, it's like starting over. When you get to college, it's like starting over. You want it to be like that.

"That's a big reason why I'm so humble because I see how he carries himself and how he treated me when I was a five-star and the highest recruit to come to Auburn. He never treated me like that. I feel like that helped me.

"If you come here, I feel like you'll remember it. You'll want to come back. You'll make memories forever and you'll win some basketball games. That's what I try to tell them."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

DSC00829In his only season on the Plains, Jabari Smith helped Auburn win the 2022 SEC championship