DANVILLE — It didn’t take long for Tevin Smith to form a strong bond with Brandon Dunson.
Especially after Dunson, a Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball assistant coach, traveled to Danville last school year for one of Smith’s open gyms.
“We have a lot of things in common that I didn’t know about,” Smith said of he and Dunson, a Bloomington native.
Like their favorite TV shows and the same pair of Air Jordan shoes.
And, after Friday night, the same college basketball team. Smith verbally committed to the Titans on Friday night, two days after the Danville senior standout told The News-Gazette he would choose coach Dedrique Taylor’s program out of a final seven that also included Oregon, Bradley, UT Martin, Milwaukee, Miami (Ohio) and DePaul.
“I’m proud of myself and what I’ve done and all that, but there’s still work to do,” Smith told The News-Gazette on Wednesday night. “But I’m glad I made the right decision.”
Smith will be the second current Division I men’s basketball player hailing from Danville, joining 2018 Vikings graduate Kendle Moore (Colorado State). One of Smith’s fellow classmates, Erin Houpt, signed with the Mercer women’s basketball program in mid-November.
Smith is a 2019 News-Gazette All-Area boys’ basketball first-team pick who averaged 18 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals that season, his sophomore year. The 6-foot-4 forward suffered a knee injury during the 2019 offseason and missed a sizeable chunk of Danville’s 2019-2020 campaign dealing with an injury.
Smith is between sessions playing for the United States Basketball Academy, an independent prep hoops training facility based out of Oregon. He’s been gaining repetitions there while the Vikings wait to see if their IHSA season, presently delayed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will ever start.
But it was with his Danville teammates that Smith gained interest from Cal State Fullerton, which is 1-1 this season and 95-128 in Taylor’s eight-plus seasons leading the Titans. Smith said he received an official offer from the team during the pandemic.
“It was just trust,” Smith said. “I trusted them the most out of anything. We kept in contact the most out of everybody. I just feel like it was a good fit, and the stye of play definitely fits.”
Building off that last point, Smith said Cal State Fullerton’s fast tempo and lack of reliance on set plays appealed to him.
“It was just read and reacting,” Smith said. “That’s the type of player I am, really. It fits perfect for me.”
Smith was further convinced he’d found his home at the campus of more than 41,000 thanks to a virtual tour this past summer.
“They showed me everything,” Smith said. “And then they really showed me what player they want me to become if I went there. I was like, ‘Man, this is good.’”
Smith is listed as a small forward on both his Rivals and 247sports recruiting profiles. But he said the Cal State Fullerton staff has expressed other ideas for his position on the court.
“They were just saying being a point guard would definitely benefit me in the future. It’s true,” Smith said. “Not a lot of tall point guards, for real, in the league. I would be average, but if I grew more it’d be definitely different. That’d be a huge advantage for me.”
Smith said he’d like to put on more size ahead of arriving in Fullerton, Calif., and recognizes he’ll likely need to speed up his game to compete at the D-I level. His work with the United States Basketball Academy can help with the latter target, as Smith is competing against some of the nation’s premier talent in The Grind Session circuit.
Something else this stint is preparing Smith for is living out on the West Coast. Cal State Fullerton’s campus is about 5 miles outside Anaheim — and approximately 2,000 miles from Danville High School.
“I’ve been far before, so it really wasn’t a problem with me,” said Smith, who plans to study finance in college. “But coming from Danville to California, that’s, I wouldn’t say rare, but different. Totally different.”