Andre Smith, a senior point guard from Tampa, Fla., remembers watching Winthrop's basketball team play on television in the NCAA tournament. He paid special attention to then-Eagles point guard Chris Gaynor.
"He's small, like me," the 5-foot-9 Smith said.
Smith made his official visit to Winthrop late last week and gave his verbal commitment to coach Randy Peele on Sunday.
His AAU coach Kenny Gillion said Winthrop is getting a good one in Smith.
"He is a small Tim Hardaway," Gillion said. "He can create off the dribble, he gets to the rim and plays aggressive full-court defense. He is one of the best on-ball defenders I have coached in my 11 years of AAU basketball."
Smith's willingness to play hard-nosed defense will be a plus in Winthrop's "tournament-style" of play. When he arrives on campus next fall he will play behind starting point guard Reggie Middleton and backup Reggie King. Middleton will be a senior for the 2011-2012 season and King, a junior.
Smith said he had a good feeling about Winthrop even before he made his visit. He and his family flew up on Sept. 2. He got a tour of the Winthrop Coliseum and campus but said the best part was watching the team play a pickup game.
"Coach Peele definitely stressed defense," Smith said.
Smith said he and his family talked about the visit on their way home on Saturday and made the decision on Sunday.
Smith also received an offer from East Tennessee back in February. At that time the St. Petersburg Times reported he had received strong interest from Middle Tennessee, North Florida, Stetson, Central Florida, Clemson and Ole Miss.
Gillion said Smith was discouraged that he wasn't getting the attention of bigger schools. The coach went on to compare Smith's potential to former Eagles' standout James Shuler. The two are vastly different players. Shuler was a big-bodied small forward who scored 1,160 points from 2003-2006.
Their similarity, to Gillion, is that they were both lightly recruited out of Florida.
Gillion said Smith's height doesn't prevent him from doing anything he wants to do in games. He has great leaping ability and pulled down five rebounds a game this summer for Gillion's team.
The 2009-2010 season Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year led his Blake High School to a 26-5 record and the No. 5 ranking in the Florida Class 4A state poll. He poured in 19.2 points and five assists per game. He has scored 1,360 points in three seasons.
Smith was later named to the 4A all-state third-team and Tampa Tribune All-Hillsborough County Boys Basketball first-team as well as the St. Petersburg Times All-County first-team.
In the 4A regional tournament, Smith hit a buzzer-beater against Palmetto in the region quarterfinals for 56-53 victory. Smith scored 21 of his game-high 24 points in the second half to lead Blake to the win.
Winthrop cannot comment on any recruit until a National Letter of Intent has been signed.