Buffalo Bandits rookie/free agent camp is open and Dhane Smith is in the building. The fifth overall pick in this year’s National Lacrosse League draft went unsigned until yesterday afternoon, when he finally put pen to paper and prepared to head to the First Niagara Centre this morning to begin his professional career in the only arena where he’s seen an NLL game.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the coaches. I know them but I haven’t really talked to them that much this year,” Smith told IL Indoor shortly after he signed his contract. “I’m looking forward to meeting the other draft picks; I’ve met them too but haven’t really talked to them that much. I’m just excited to kick it off and see how everybody is.”
Smith says he’s been working on his conditioning, having daily sessions with a trainer who’s helping to get him ready for the rigours of the NLL season. The rangy, athletic righty was already a physical specimen. The big questions for him are how quickly he’ll adapt to the pro game and what position he’ll wind up playing.
The chance to play with the Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks this summer, after his MVP season with the Jr A Braves ended, was a big help with the former, he says. “Junior helped me a lot but [playing in Major Series Lacrosse] helped me a lot more because the older guys told me what I had to do and what to get ready for,” Smith said. “As long as I was with them they helped me out. It made it a lot easier.”
Smith actually got into some MSL games in 2011 but found himself much more at home this year. “It was definitely totally different. When I first got called up to the Kodiaks, in my third year [in junior], it was crazy. I was getting pushed around like nobody and it was just a totally different game. This year when I got the chance to play I felt like I fit in well, I wasn’t getting pushed around any more. I’m looking forward to playing with all these guys and against them.”
As far as his position goes, Smith is open to whatever the Bandits want him to do. “I’m excited to see where I wind up. It doesn’t really matter to me, to be honest. I can play out the back door or the front door, doesn’t really matter,” he said. As the leading scorer in OLA Jr A circuit this year, he clearly has the talent to play up front. He’s spent some time in his own end, though. Braves’ coach Brian Biesel says he often ran Smith in a transition role for a couple of reasons: his speed and skill make him a lethal threat on the breakout, plus Biesel believed transition was where Smith was most likely to make his mark in the pro game.
Smith’s agent Chaka Bainbridge says he’s happy they were able to get a deal done so that Smith could be in rookie camp. “I thought it was important for him to get to experience that first camp,” Bainbridge said. “I think he’s going to be a great player in the NLL and being there is going to help him make an impact more quickly. We were just looking to get fair value in his contract, but he always wanted to play and he’s excited to be there.”
Ironically, the fate of another Bainbridge client could affect where Smith winds up playing. Luke Wiles, the team’s second-leading scorer in goals and total points last year, has yet to sign and according to both sides is further away from reaching an agreement than Smith was before he signed. As another right-hander, if Wiles is not in camp or on the roster when the season starts, that will leave a scoring void that Smith may be needed to step into.
Of course, Smith is keeping an eye on the progress of contract talks for yet another Bandit represented by Bainbridge. His cousin Billy Dee Smith is a star defender with the team and Dhane had long dreamed of getting to play with him. Whether or not the cousins are stepping on the carpet together for the Bandits 2013 home opener on January 12 against Minnesota, Dhane is stoked for that night. “It’s actually the only arena I’ve been to NLL games in and they’re nuts there. It’s such a great atmosphere. I can’t wait to play there.”Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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