Q&A with Tookie Brown and Ike Smith: GS’s improvement, March Madness, childhood teams and more

Jerell Rushin

Entering the Sun Belt Conference Tournament as the No. 3 seed, Georgia Southern will have a first-round bye, and will only need to win two games to make it to the championship game. Last year, they did not have that luxury and were eliminated in the first round by South Alabama.

We caught up with Tookie Brown and Ike Smith, the Sun Belt’s top two scorers and first-team selections, and spoke with them before they headed to New Orleans for the tournament.

How proud are you of the strides that were made as team from last year?

Brown: I think we’re doing a lot better than last year. We have pretty much the same guys, and I think having all the guys come back over the summer and working out was a good thing for us. It’s showed that it paid off during the season.

Smith: We definitely made big strides from last year. Last year we were pretty inexperienced. We were just getting to know each other. Being inexperienced is still not an excuse, but we are proud of our how far we’ve gotten. We’re not going to stop until we get to where we want to go.

What can the team do differently this year to win a game in the SBC Tournament?

Brown: Go out and play hard. Don’t change the mentality going into the game.

Smith: We definitely know what to expect. We’re going to stick to our game plan. Teams are going looking to knock us off, so we’re going to have to have our jaws locked and just play hard.

What’s the key to going into a “win or go home” game?

Brown: Just going out there and doing what the coaches tell you do. Stick to the game plan. Don’t change anything up. I think the big thing for us is sticking together.

Smith: Just getting ready for a war. Every game out there is going to be a war because every team in the Sun Belt is good. Even in the lower part of the standings, they’re still going to be pretty good, so just having our jaws set.

What teams and coaches did you grow up rooting for?

Brown: I liked Kentucky. I like John Calipari and the way he brings in point guards and gets them to the [NBA]. He’s always on you and you can say same thing about [head coach Mark Byington]. That’s one thing that stood out to me.

Smith: I was a big Florida fan. I’m from Gainesville, Florida. My favorite team was the 2006-2007 team when they won back-to-back National Championships with Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer. I like Billy Donavan [head coach, now with the Oklahoma City Thunder] as well. Growing up, I looked up to all of them. I’ve never been to a professional game, but in high school, I went a few Florida games.

Who will win the Naismith Award for the college player of the year?

Brown: Frank Mason III [G, Kansas], he’s doing pretty good compared to what he did last year.

Smith: I’d say [Frank] Mason III. He made a big stride from last year to this year. He’s pretty good.

Who will get the No. 1 seed in the entire NCAA Tournament?

Brown: Probably Kansas, since Gonzaga took the L. It’s going to be hard for them [to regain No. 1] since they aren’t playing anybody in their conference.

Wichita State, VCU and Butler were a few underdogs that had success in the Tournament within the last few years. Which one do you think had the most impressive run?

Smith: VCU with Shaka Smart. I actually used to watch them a lot. I think why they made that big run was because of their defense. The press they do is hard to beat.

Georgia Southern hasn’t been on the national stage since we defeated Florida in football in 2013, so how special would it be to put us on the map and win a few games the tournament?

Brown: Man, that would be good for us. It’ll show that we can play with anybody. It’ll show people, “Oh, Georgia Southern isn’t a pushover school.”

Smith: Coach talks about making memories, and that’d definitely be a memory. That’s something that we’d never forget, so that’d be pretty special.

Do you play Madden or 2k?

Brown: I’m a 2k person. I can’t play football. All the guys on the team play 2k. I just like how they all get mad when I beat them.

Smith: I played it (2k) last year, but I don’t really play it anymore. I don’t really have that much free time. Madden cheats, so I don’t play Madden.

So you think you’re the best, Tookie?

Brown: I don’t think, I know. They know it too but they wouldn’t tell you that. I play with the Warriors.

Smith: He claims he‘s the best right now, but if I get on the sticks I’d probably be the best.

What do you think of [Naismith Award semifinalist] Lonzo Ball at UCLA and LaMelo Ball in high school?

Smith: I think it’s their dad, their dad is out of control. But Melo with 92 points, that’s just crazy. I think Lonzo will do pretty good in the NBA. I think he’s done after this year. It’s no point in staying. He’s proved everything that he can do in college.

Cavaliers or Warriors?

Brown: I have to go with the Warriors, because they have more experienced guys. The Cavs have Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, and they haven’t experienced the Finals like Kyrie and LeBron have.

Smith: I’m a Cavs fan. I’m a big LeBron fan. I want LeBron to get his fourth ring. KD’s hurt too, man it’s bad.

Georgia Southern will face seventh-seeded Troy in the quarterfinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. If Southern wins, they could face second-seeded Georgia State for a third time in the season in the semifinals round on Saturday.