Fourteen players gave London Lightning staff a last look of their skills Tuesday (Oct. 15) during the black-and-yellow intra-squad game at Budweiser Gardens before the final cuts.
The team can have a maximum of 12 players on the roster and six guards, eight forwards and one centre were put on display to close put the Lightning’s two-week training camp. For fans it was their first look at the team’s possible future if they hadn’t gone to the YMCA’s Centre Branch to watch the tryouts
The final roster is expected to be announced any time now, according to Lightning general manager Taylor Brown.
One player who is looking to settle back into the Forest City spotlight is Eddie Smith.
The Illinois-born guard was picked as the sixth man of the year in 2012 in the National Basketball League of Canada’s (NBLC) inaugural year, averaging 17.26 points (seventh league wide) and 3.28 assists (team-high) a game.
On top of his skill, he had a loud personality that was as earsplitting as his taunts to players or referees when he thought there was something to be noticed.
The following off-season after his NBLC championship he asked to leave the Lightning to be in a more starring role on a club and was traded to the now-defunct Laval Kebs.
“There’s always certain things that go on, that a certain players will want to test something else and I think Eddie realizes London is where he wants to be,” said Lightning general manager Taylor Brown. “It took him a year outside of this team to realize that.”
Smith had an operation on his knee that 2012 off-season and the problematic joints overshadowed his following year.
After the Kebs folded, he moved onto the Halifax Rainmen where he was able to watch the Lightning’s championship banner get raised to the rafter when the east coast team travelled to the Forest City for London’s home opener.
That game, held Nov. 3, would be Smith’s last in a Rainmen jersey, getting put on the injury reserved list due to problems with his right knee. He never actually played a game in Halifax for the team and sat out of the NBLC for about three months.
Smith’s contract was bought by the Windsor Express later that season and he played 15 games for the team between Feb. 6 and April 2, 2013.
The highlight of his time with the Express being when he dropped 27 points on the Lightning in a 108-107 win for Windsor.
“I left the first year just for some emotional reasons and I just needed to take a year off and I talked to the coach and talked to the owners and they were good with it,” Smith said. “We left on good terms and they were more than happy to have me back and I’m happy to be back.”
Some fans never forgave Smith for his truancy.
When it was announced he was leaving you could find messages on the Lightning’s Facebook wall reading, “If he's gonna be a greedy SOB he needs learn his place, he's not M V (Gabe) Freeman.”
When the 30-year-old returned to the Forest City, a big cardboard Eddie Smith head was displayed for the crowd to ridicule.
One Lightning fan made posters of a baby with Smith’s head photoshopped in. There’s even one as him as a Teletubby. Fans went to Windsor to heckle him when he played against the Lightning.
Nowadays, Smith is just looking for bygones to be bygones.
“When it’s all said and done I’m here to help this team win games, I’m here to have a good time, I’m here to enjoy the fans’ atmosphere and just try to bring another championship here,” Smith said.
He even seems to have come around to coming off the bench again.
In his two years in the NBLC that’s where he shined the brightest and maybe that’s why fans were so upset with his absence — he always helped the team.
He would continue to grind opponents down when the starters needed a break. He usually provided a spark when his team needed it. On a roster full of characters you could always hear Smith’s voice amongst the crowd.
“Whatever a coach wants to do, I’m just falling in line and try to help my team the best way we can,” Smith said. “I just have a job to do and I’m happy people are supporting me and behind me and I’m just going to go out there and perform to the best of my abilities.”
The Lightning let go of guard Adrian Moss in the recent set of cuts Monday (Oct. 14). The small guard could produce offence, but London coach Micheal Ray Richardson questioned his defensive skills at times last year.
With Smith, the Lightning know what they’re getting and so do London supporters.
Some fans might still hold a grudge, but if the guard can put up 27 points on a team other then the Lightning then they’ll get over it sooner than later. He put up only three points in Tuesday’s friendly matchup.
Smith is probably back and there’s a good chance he’s here to stay. At least for another year and barring his knees stay in shape.
“It happens in all the professional leagues. One of the top guys, and Eddie was arguably the top player in the league in that first year … when he goes to another team it’s no different then a star like Lebron James, if he ends up back in Cleveland do you think they’re going to welcome him back?,” Brown said. “Of course they will. It’s all part of the game and our fans will realize that once he gets out there.”
Intra-squad game notes:
The black squad beat the yellow team 96-76. The black team was made of six players who have never suited up for the Lightning and forward Marvin Phillips, who was the playoff MVP last year. Guard Jaytornah Wisseh led the black team with 21 points. Antwi Ateuhene led the yellow team with 27 points.
“I was overly impressed with everybody. It’s going to be extremely hard cutting these last few players. Obviously I was extremely happy with Jaytornah and the way he played tonight at point guard and Garret Williamson,” Brown said.