Baseball: Cajuns' Smith to leave program
Baseball: Cajuns' Smith to leave program
Freshman slugger wants to play closer to home in Tennessee
By Joshua Parrott
On the field, Les Smith found everything he could have ever wanted playing baseball at UL.
The 554-mile separation from his family in Dyersburg, Tenn., though, ended up being too much for freshman outfielder to bear.
Smith, a starter in right field this past season, told theadvertiser.com that he will transfer to a junior college closer to home. He called UL coach Tony Robichaux on Sunday afternoon with his official decision.
"First off, I want to say that coach Robe and his coaching staff are unbelievable, and that my decision to leave had nothing to do with the coaches, my teammates or the program," Smith said in his first media interview since making his decision. "Basically, it came down to what was best for me and what was going to make me happy.
"It was my decision, and it came down to the fact that I needed to go someplace that was going to make me happy off the field. Louisiana was great on the field, but off the field I've got to be happy with my life."
Smith, who has three years of eligibility remaining and could play immediately in junior college next season, said it was tough to leave the Cajuns given that he had grown so close to Robichaux. In fact, Smith called Robichaux his "second dad." The two had bonded in the past few months as Smith dealt with family healthy issues.
After Smith's grandfather died in November, his grandmother recently fell ill. The death of his grandfather, Smith said, played a big part in his decision to get closer to his family.
Dyersburg is located about an hour north of Memphis along the west Tennessee border.
"My grandmother is in really bad shape right now with Alzheimer's and congestive heart failure like my grandfather had," said Smith, whose father Les lettered in baseball at Ole Miss from 1982-83. "I've always been a family guy, and I really don't want to be so far away from my family."
Smith emerged as one of the Sun Belt's top young talents this year as a freshman, starting 57 of 58 games played and hitting .284 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs. He led the team in total bases (111), tied for first in runs scored (42) and was second in homers, RBIs, hits (62), doubles (14) and walks (28) despite playing the last half of the season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
Defensively, Smith did not commit an error in right field and had seven assists.
Smith's production - and his potential - leaves a hole in UL's lineup for 2010. He was rated the nation's 51st-best recruit in his class at one time by rivals.com before getting hurt prior to his senior year of high school.
His departure was not a surprising move. In his exit interview last week with Robichaux, Smith said he wanted to talk with his family before deciding where he would play next season.
"He let me know that he had visited with his family and felt that he needed to stay closer to home," Robichaux said. "It was a family decision, and that's no surprise because he comes from a very close family.
"He recently lost a grandfather he was very close to and feels like it would be better for him to be closer to his family so they wouldn't have to be on the road so much to see him and watch him play."
Smith is the second UL player in the past week to leave UL's baseball program. Tyler Benzel, a sophomore third baseman from Florida, told theadvertiser.com last Tuesday that he would transfer and play his final two years at an NCAA Division II school closer to home.
As for his future destination, Smith said he has yet to speak with any junior college coaches. A few schools had contacted him, Smith said, but he refused to respond until after making his final decision out of respect for Robichaux and UL. In going to junior college, Smith will be eligible for the 2010 draft.
One school that Smith did mention was Walters State Community College, a perennial junior college power located in Morristown, Tenn. - which is about 404 miles from Dyersburg. The Senators won the 2006 NJCAA Division I national title.
Before anything else, Smith must decide what to do about his shoulder. He faces one year of rehab with surgery. With a scope, he will miss four months. His next doctor visit is Friday in Memphis.
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