1-on-1 with Kenny Smith — on the Pacers, Victor Oladipo, Nate McMillan and The Jet Academy

The 'Inside the NBA' studio analyst weighs in.

Kenny Smith is best known now for his excellent work on TNT’s studio show “Inside the NBA,” which airs weekly during the NBA season. Together with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Shaq, the crew has the most entertaining sports studio show on TV.

Smith — who learned about broadcasting from his wife, a news reporter — also is a two-time NBA champion with the Houston Rockets and a starter for most of his 10-year career after playing four years at the University of North Carolina.

Like all of us, though, Smith found himself with extra time over the last four months with sports put on the back burner. So he was productive and figured young players had an itch to not only play basketball, but to learn. So he launched The Jet Academy — and then enlisted NBA and WNBA players like Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart to contribute each week.

“With the social distancing and the pandemic, all the live events and things that you go to are canceled, I have a basketball camp that was canceled so I was like, ‘Well, why should everyone’s development stop? Why? It shouldn't.’ So I just created the first sports academy that’s streaming,” Smith said.

“We become your personal trainer for an hour, an hour and a half a day. You work side-by-side, you can ask questions and it works on any device anywhere.”

Oladipo goes live with Smith every day this week at noon ET and you can use code BIGSHAQ to save $35 at sign-up. We talked about this venture, along with plenty of basketball items on a Zoom call Monday afternoon.

Watch our full conversation in the embedded player below, or you can listen to on the Fieldhouse Files podcast. (Fieldhouse Files can be heard wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor and Google Podcasts.)


Below is a highlight from our conversation.

On Victor Oladipo…

I think for him, he’s got to be healthy. I was a little alerted because players at that level — All-Star, as Victor is, and on the verge of super stardom possibly — they always think 50 percent of themselves is better than anybody else. So when he said I might not be ready, I was like … you usually have to tell guys not to play. So I was alerted as a player, as a managerial head, a coach. I would be like, wait a minute. Normally I got to talk guys into ‘Nah, nah not yet.’ Especially at that level of player.

I just hope that he comes back, he’s 100 percent, he doesn’t risk any injury because the future always feels like now, but the future is long. So he’s got a long career ahead of him and the Pacers have a long possibly career with him, so they have to think about all of those things.

Kenny “The Jet Smith” played in the NBA from 1987-97 and now stars on “Inside the NBA.” (Photo: @TheJetOnTNT)

On whether mental health is a larger component now…

I think there’s a little bit more distractions as well, obviously, because you hear the noise easier with social media. Like, we didn’t hear the noise as easily unless we turned on sports radio. We decided to turn that off. When your device is on, you get alerts you’re not even thinking about or your friends around the world instantly get information that we didn’t have a problem with. But we also had a championship (mindset) of how to clear your head, create the space to have a great work environment. That’s not new, maybe new to them. But that’s not new.

On Pacers coach Nate McMillan…

For being a point guard at 6-4 and his length, he was such a great defender. I think that was one of the things I remember that stood out. You always had to be careful in the passing lanes because normally you could make a pass at this angle, but because his arm length was so long, you had to throw the ball a little further out. That just stands out and he played on some great Seattle teams that we had some real difficulties playing against at times with the Rockets, even in our championship years.

He’s brought a lot of that to his thought process as a coach, without question should have been in the top two or three for Coach of the Year last year and again, with all the injuries, he still has the Pacers in the playoffs. His best players aren’t always there and just an unbelievable job Nate is doing in the long run. Just happy to see that happen for him.

On whether being a small-market team contributes to them not having postseason success…

Well, you could be the Knicks. (laughs)

You could be a great, big market and never make the playoffs. So no, I think (fans) get spoiled that (the Pacers) make the playoffs. Being one of the top eight teams consistently over the years is very difficult and it’s a big accomplishment.