Ohio State Legacy: Lenzelle Smith Jr.

Ohio State Legacy: Lenzelle Smith Jr.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. was never a superstar in Columbus, but he was never supposed to be one either. Transforming from a three-star prospect to a three-year starter, the Zion, Ill. native has still managed to build quite the legacy during his time at Ohio State. As Smith's senior day approaches on Sunday, we look back at what he's accomplished as a Buckeye.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. was somewhat of an afterthought in Ohio State's 2010 class.

For better or worse, he's been anything but that throughout the final three seasons of his college career.

A three-star prospect from Zion, Ill., Smith arrived on campus alongside five-star prospects Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, four-star guards Aaron Craft and Jordan Sibert and the high-flying J.D. Weatherspoon. The 24th-ranked point guard in the 2010 class, Smith was viewed by many as merely insurance for the backcourt-depleted Buckeyes.

And playing in just a total of 91 minutes in 37 games, Smith was just that during his freshman year.

But during the 6-4, 210-pounder's sophomore season, Smith's career began to travel a different trajectory. Despite Sibert seeing more significant playing time a year prior, it was Smith who opened the season as the Buckeyes' starting shooting guard.

Smith would maintain his spot in the starting lineup throughout Ohio State's run to the 2012 Final Four. Playing alongside Sullinger, Thomas, Craft and William Buford, he wasn't asked to do much but defend and rebound, but Smith still displayed an ability to steal the show.

When the No. 5 Buckeyes hosted No. 7 Indiana for a January top-10 matchup, Smith exploded for a career high 28 points in an 80-63 OSU win. A 17-point effort from the sophomore paced the Buckeyes in a victory over No. 20 Michigan and Smith's 17-point and 18-point March nights against Cincinnati and Syracuse helped send Ohio State to the Final Four.

Smith's big games seemed to come when the Buckeyes needed them most. But they also were the highlights of the largely inconsistent play that he would display for the better part of his college career.

The Prairie State native got off to a strong start in his junior year, scoring in double digits in nine of the Ohio State's first 13 games. Smith's average, however, wouldn't hold, as he scored in single digits in 10 of the Buckeyes' 18 regular season Big Ten matchups.

The postseason wasn't as kind to the junior in 2013 as it was in 2012, with Smith posting a 7.3 scoring average throughout OSU's run to the Elite Eight. A quiet 2-for-6 effort for just five points didn't do much to help the Buckeyes in their final game of the season, where a 70-66 Wichita State upset ended Ohio State's hopes of a second straight Final Four.

With Sullinger and Thomas playing professionally and Sibert and Weatherspoon having transferred, Smith returned in 2013 alongside Craft as one of two seniors remaining on the Buckeyes' roster. Speaking to BuckeyeSports.com at Big Ten media day, Smith was well aware that he had just one season remaining to cement his legacy.

"I don't have another chance to wait," Smith said. "This year is do or die. It's my senior year. If there's any year that I'm going to be able to help the team, it's this year."

Through this season's first 30 games, Smith has averaged career highs of 11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. His three-point shooting percentage is down from each of the past two seasons, although it's also worth noting that he's been asked to carry a bigger offensive load in Thomas' absence.

Perhaps the highlight of Smith's career came on Dec. 21, when he scored nine points in the final 45 seconds of Ohio State's improbable come-from-behind win over Notre Dame. The Buckeyes had trailed the Irish by eight points with less than a minute remaining, before the Smith's spurt saved OSU from what would have been its first loss of the season.

Consistency still might not be his calling card, although only seven times this season has he scored fewer than eight points in a game. But at 22-8 and sixth in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have struggled more this season than they have during any other of Smith's career.

That's something that he clearly takes seriously, as evidenced by his postgame rant following OSU's Jan. 29 loss to Penn State. With the Buckeyes having just picked up their fifth loss in six games, Smith said that any fingers being pointed should be done so in his direction.

"I take full responsibility for that. I gotta get back to what we need and pick guys up and try to do my best -- an even better job -- to try to carry guys this year as a senior," he said. "I just feel so bad for me and Aaron and the rest of my teammates in the locker room right now. I know this hurts them. And it hurts me even more because this is one less game I get to play in this jersey and this is the greatest time of my life."

For some fans, Smith has become an easy target due to his inconsistent shooting. His Twitter timeline was filled with ugly mentions after he missed two would-be game winners in OSU's Feb. 27 rematch with the Nittany Lions.

But given where he started his college career, it's also just as easy to see Smith as an overachiever. Once a three-star prospect, Smith became a three-year starter in Columbus, a key contributor on a Final Four team and if nothing else, an impressive defender capable of effectively guarding multiple positions.

Smith may not be a superstar, but that was never supposed to be his role at Ohio State. Nevertheless, he'll play a key role in determining the final part of his legacy in Columbus, as he and the Buckeyes prepare for one last postseason run to cap his college career.

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