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Gwinnett Grads: Tiger Pup

As a high school basketball player, Tanner Smith was renowned for his scoring.

He averaged more than 25 points as a junior. He scored 25 in last year's Class AA state championship game, including 17 second-half points that propelled Wesleyan to the title.

Now that he's in the ACC, as a Clemson reserve, his game isn't typically about filling up the basket.

"My high school coach (Skip Matherly), after the first couple of games, he saw how I was used on defense," Smith said. "He sent me a text message saying how I was a defensive guy now. In high school I wasn't really known for my defense.

"But coming in here, I was going to do anything I could to get on the floor."

That strategy has worked to get Smith 13.3 minutes per game for the Tigers, who are 16-0 and ranked No. 9 in the nation. They have a huge test today against No. 2-ranked Wake Forest, a 3:30 p.m. game on ABC, that will allow Smith to play against his old friend Al-Farouq Aminu, who began his high school career at Wesleyan.

Aminu is one of Wake Forest's go-to players and considered by many as the ACC's best freshman, but Smith hasn't done too badly himself.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard/forward is part of an impressive freshman group that provides a spark off the bench for a veteran Clemson team. His role has become increasingly important as the season has gone along, something that even surprised him.

"I didn't really know what to expect (coming in), but I was told I had an opportunity to play some as a freshman, but I didn't know what some was," Smith said. "I kind of just wanted to get into the rotation some to see what I could do. I've been able to get some good, quality minutes. Probably a lot more than I expected."

Smith's last three outings have been his best, starting with an eight-point, three-rebound, two-steal game Jan. 3 against East Carolina.

He also played well in wins over Alabama on Jan. 6 (six points, five rebounds) and N.C. State last weekend (seven points, four steals, three assists, two rebounds).

In those three games, he made 9 of 15 shots (60.0 percent), upping his season shooting percentage to 51.0.

But his work on the defensive end has been just as valuable on the defensive end. The Clemson coaches thought enough of the freshman to use him briefly against Miami guard Jack McClinton, one of the ACC's most prolific scorers. Smith said it was his toughest defensive assignment to date.

"I did pretty well (on McClinton) I think," Smith said. "He had the ball on three possessions and he didn't score on any of them."

The instant contribution to Clemson has been a bonus for Smith, who was just eager to fulfill a dream of playing ACC basketball. A seat on the sidelines this season would have been enough for him.

"I've always wanted to play in the ACC and now it's really happening," Smith said. "I just remember watching (ACC players) on TV last year and here I am now, playing against these guys that are household names."

BASKETBALL

Lawal gets praise from Coach K

Gani Lawal has been Georgia Tech's go-to player this season, but he struggled in Wednesday night's loss to Duke.

The 6-foot-9 Norcross grad had six points, struggling with a 2-for-8 performance at the line and a 2-for-8 showing from the field. But he did grab a career-high 17 rebounds and impressed legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who thought enough of Lawal to double-team him.

"He's good. He's gotten really strong," Krzyzewski said of Lawal. "You can tell that kid's really worked. I don't think anybody I've seen yet - I know I haven't seen everybody - but I don't think anybody runs the floor quicker than Lawal. He goes from the defensive end to the offensive end real fast. He's a big-time player - a competitor."

Meeks in Athens on Sunday

High-scoring Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks makes his only trip to Georgia this season for Sunday's SEC matchup in Athens.

The Norcross grad is coming off a Wildcat-record 54-point game in an upset victory over Tennessee. He averages 25.9 points, ranking fourth in the nation and first in the SEC.

Meeks' 54-point effort was the most by an SEC player since LSU's Chris Jackson scored 55 in 1989. All of the other high-scoring games of 54 points or more by an SEC player occurred in 1972 or earlier.

Moye huge for Charleston

College of Charleston has relied heavily this season on senior Sarah Moye, who leads the team with a 29.9 minute-per-game average.

The Wesleyan grad, the only Cougar to start at 15 games, averages 6.9 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds.

Moye has posted a few standout games this season for 10-5 Charleston, grabbing 16 rebounds against Charleston Southern and going for 15 points and 10 rebounds against South Carolina State.

Hebron's Odum breaks Piedmont records

Hebron Christian grad Courtney Odum had a record-setting night Thursday with her Piedmont College basketball team.

Odum scored a school-record 39 points and made a school-record nine 3-pointers (on just 10 attempts) as the Lions defeated rival Toccoa Falls College. The sophomore's huge game helped Piedmont (2-11) stop an 11-game losing streak that dated back to Nov. 15.

North Gwinnett grad Lisa Jennings added 11 points and seven steals for the victors.

Gyawu powers Colgate win

Colgate got off to a 4-9 start this season, but it won its Patriot League opener last weekend behind Parkview grad Yaw Gyawu. The freshman had a team-high 15 points and six rebounds as the Raiders defeated Army 64-42.

Montgomery shining at North Georgia

Hebron Christian grad Meredith Montgomery is the third-leading scorer on the North Georgia women's team.

Montgomery, who averages 8.2 points and 1.8 steals, had 15 points last weekend against UNC-Pembroke. She also had a 20-point game earlier this season against Lincoln Memorial.

FOOTBALL

North grad Cook declares early for NFL Draft

North Gwinnett Jared Cook, a tight end/wide receiver at South Carolina, was among the early entries into the upcoming NFL Draft.

The junior had 37 catches for 573 yards and three touchdowns this past season, but his athletic ability could make him a first- or second-round pick if he performs well at the NFL Combine. Cook is 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, but ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds while at South Carolina.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.