Hawley Smith seems to get a lot of flack.
Whether it’s from his coach or being mismatched against bigger opponents, Smith takes the hits for the team and is content with his position.
He’s not a starter, so his numbers are nothing to brag about.
Nevertheless, he’s still one of the first guys to come off the bench for his willingness to bang down low with bigger guys, take fouls and absorb the wear and tear.
While the Owls have always been synonymous with staunch defensive play, this season has been fraught with giving up too many open looks, and bereft of a steady rebounding presence.
But one bright spot has been Smith.
Recruited out of Jacksonville as a shooting guard, Smith has been seeing much of his time playing both forward positions, and occasionally center.
“That’s kind of how I’ve always been, play inside even though I don’t really belong there, fighting in there with the big guys, but I love it,” Smith said.
“That’s what I like to do, bang with everybody, I don’t care.”
His numbers aren’t gaudy, but they don’t have to be.
Smith logs only 12.5 minutes a game and is averaging just two points and two rebounds a game, but those numbers belie his true value as a tenacious defender.
Despite being only 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, half of his rebounds are off the offensive glass.
He uses his body with reckless abandon, always ready to take a charge or dive on the floor for a loose ball.
“I feel like I’ve accepted [Coach John Chaney’s] system and learned what he expects from each of us…and it’s not so much ability to play defense, it’s just knowing where you’re supposed to be, and when, and doing it hard,” Smith said.
Smith does the little things on the defensive side that seem to go unnoticed.
In early January against Wisconsin, Chaney inserted Smith with less than two minutes to go in the first half.
All Smith did was force a charging foul, then, on the next Badger possession, he cut into a passing lane causing the ball to go askew.
Two turnovers were caused, resulting in two more opportunities for the Owls.
After the Owls blowout loss to Penn in early December, Chaney lauded Smith for his yeoman effort.
While the youthful Owls are trying to overcome the inexperience and inordinate number of losses, Smith found himself in an even more vexing situation.
During a loss at Duquesne on January 8, he suffered a sprained ankle that kept him out of the next three games.
“It’s rough sitting on the sideline, seeing your team struggle or just seeing a need for some energy,” Smith said.
“But it’s brutal, you’re sitting there and you can’t go in and tell guys to pick it up, and you know, it’s just the same.”
In the 82-51 blowout win over Fordham, Smith felt he was healthy enough to play, but Chaney didn’t see the need in such a lopsided game.
Chaney admitted to being apprehensive with Smith, since the possibility of re-injuring the ankle would probably mean the end of Smith’s season.
Smith returned to the lineup in a 71-68 win over Rhode Island and saw significant time off the bench.
In 20 minutes he collected three points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals.
In essence, it was a typical performance from Smith, who tries to do all of the little things for the team.
“I love banging with guys and getting beat up,” Smith said.
“Even refs don’t give me respect, but it’s more fun that way.”
The 57-49 loss to Dayton on Jan. 25 took away some of the momentum the Owls were trying to build after two straight wins.
However, despite the prospects of postseason play diminishing with each loss, Smith remains resilient and believes in Chaney’s system.
“Coach isn’t going to give up on us, everybody knows that, and we can’t give up on him,” Smith said.
Jason Haslam can be reached at Jason.email@example.com