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Wisconsin State Journal
Paul Smith was feeling crooked - pronounced as one syllable - the other day. His outlook had nothing to do with thievery as the sound would imply; rather the Australian slang meant he felt a bit sick.

Sometimes, after basketball practice Smith is rooted (worn out). Afterward, he may don a hoodie (sweatshirt) and a pair of trackies (sweatpants), then discuss the onset of bumfluff (teenage male facial hair).

Prep Sports: Oregon's Smith Proves to be One Memorable Mate

By Nick Zizzo

OREGON - Paul Smith was feeling crooked - pronounced as one syllable - the other day. His outlook had nothing to do with thievery as the sound would imply; rather the Australian slang meant he felt a bit sick.

Sometimes, after basketball practice Smith is rooted (worn out). Afterward, he may don a hoodie (sweatshirt) and a pair of trackies (sweatpants), then discuss the onset of bumfluff (teenage male facial hair).

Lingo is one minor obstacle Smith, an exchange student at Oregon High School, has had to overcome between his native Australia and the United States. Weather brought a much-greater impact. The temperature was in the upper 90s the day Smith departed his hometown of Adelaide last year and he arrived in Oregon Jan.• 23, the day after a major snowstorm.

"I was like, 'Blimey, this is out of control. I'm in for a long ride,'" Smith said. "It just kept coming and coming and wouldn't go away. When I touched (the snow) my hand went numb."

The major eye-opener Smith has encountered has come in the realm of prep basketball, which he said Americans take much more seriously. In Adelaide, Smith's club basketball team played once a week with laid-back practices once or twice a week. Oregon, like most prep programs around the state, has two or three games a week with two or three practices on top.

Smith, who is averaging 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Panthers, has adjusted to the rigors. However, it is the atmosphere surrounding the games he calls "life-changing."

"It's made me realize that there is this type of thing out there and it's made me cherish it even more," Smith said. "I mean, everyone gets into it. You've got parents, people who don't even know you that come out and want to watch you."

"Back home, our gymnasium may be big but we don't have any bleachers and there's maybe three or four parents for each team sitting down on the end just watching. They clap here and there but that's about it. We don't have cheerleaders because it's an all-boys school. That's pretty funny, too, coming here and there's cheerleaders and everything. Just like on the TV."

Smith, who also participated in JV soccer and track and field last season, arrived in Oregon to play in about a half-dozen basketball games last season. His seventh and final game this season - before his return to Australia - is tonight at home against McFarland in a Southern Badger Conference matchup.

Smith has drawn one conclusion after playing, and watching, nearly every other Panthers' sport.

"With school sports, American kids kind of take it for granted. Then they have to make the most of the opportunity. We don't have it back home and here I haven't taken it for granted," Smith said. "I think they just don't realize it's different in other places. I think they just might think it's like this everywhere.

"Live it as much as you can, make the most of it because it only comes around once. Who knows, you might have an injury that stops you. It's a dream pretty much because you see the TV, kids playing basketball in front of big crowds and then to come here and actually have that, it's pretty amazing.•

A natural athlete In his limited time watching Smith, Oregon basketball coach Doug Stampfli said the 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior could have a future playing beyond high school.

"I think the biggest thing Paul brings is a real genuine enthusiasm for the game of basketball. Not only that, but he's a very strong kid, he's very tough," Stampfli said. "He makes the guys around him better so he definitely makes us a better team."

A love of Australian Rules Football, or footy, may prevent Smith from following up on post-high school basketball. But it is that love of footy that has him interested in becoming a punter for the University of Wisconsin football team.

While playing for the Milwaukee Bombers, an amateur footy team, last fall, Smith's coach Paul O'Keeffe mentioned a contact he had at UW. When Smith returns home, it is likely he will e-mail his kicking distance and hang-time to O'Keeffe.

"I actually want to do that," said Smith, who estimated he can kick an Australian Rules football 55-60 yards using the torpedo/spiral punt, the same style as in American football - which Aussies call "gridiron."

"I'd only come back probably if I got a scholarship. It's just too much money, a) to get here, and b) tuition and stuff like that."

Punting would seem to be a natural for Smith. "Our goal in footy is to kick it," said Smith, who met Milwaukee Bucks center and countryman Andrew Bogut through the sport.

Smith was so impressive with the Bombers that he was named the Best and Fairest (MVP) of the 2005 Mid-American Australian Football League and at the U.S. Footy National Championships last October.

Lifelong memories The future, though, is on hold as Smith relishes his final few weeks at Oregon. He will fly home Dec. 29 - the middle of Australian summer - when his visa expires.

"He's our seventh (exchange student) that we've had and he's probably been the wildest in a sense. The one that the community all knows," said Oregon senior David Gooze, whose family "hosted" Smith. "He's our last one so we're going out with bang."

Before meeting up with family and mates, Smith takes with him - and hopefully leaves - lasting memories.

"My goal was to come here, be myself, have an impact and leave a positive mark for being an ambassador for Australia, for Rotary Youth Exchange and for myself," said Smith, who added the week-long festivities of Homecoming were his favorite time.

"Now I want to be remembered here for years to come, like for people to look back on high school and say, 'Hey, I went to school with that kid. That kid was a lot of fun, he always had a smile, he was always making people happy.' Hopefully, I will leave that impact on people."

The impact is felt on Stampfli, among others.

"Anytime you lose quality people, just a great person like Paul is, there is a little bit of a void there to be filled and I'm not just talking about the points and rebounds or anything like that," Stampfli said. "He's just a first-class individual, so he's going to be greatly missed."

 

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