October 25, 2006 - Austin Smith doesn't need to stand on his tiptoes to see over the throng of students as he lumbers through the halls of Mountain View High School. Nor does he need a ladder to gaze eye-level into school buses as they make their mass exodus from the school. He does have to duck under doorways when entering locker rooms, however.
Such is life when you're 6-feet, 8-inches tall. It's difficult to go unnoticed.
It's not just his peers who are noticing the starting center on the Mountain Lion's basketball team. Colleges from throughout the country are starting to take interest in the Mountain View junior, even though he's yet to start a game for the varsity squad.
"He's getting a lot of interest because of his size," said Mountain View head coach Mike Parillo.
But size alone isn't enough to succeed on the basketball court and Parillo is just as excited about Smith's shooting and ball-handling talents as well as his uncanny ability to drive to the hoop.
"He's got guard skills in a big man's body," continued Parillo. "Austin is our most talented player; I think he's the most talented player in Tucson.
"I would say that he is focused. He's matured a lot and ready to compete at a higher level. Sometimes last year we saw these spurts (of greatness), now he's ready to go."
In the last year, schools such as Washington State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Northern Arizona University, UC Irvine and Northern New Mexico Community College have visited Mountain View. And plenty more are expected to follow suit.
On the weekend of Oct. 14, Smith attended the Reebok Arizona Preps Fall Showcase at Grand Canyon University and displayed his talents among some of the state's best - including Arizona State University-bound Christian Polk of Glendale Deer Valley High School.
His efforts in the 200-player camp earned him a spot on the Top-20 Upperclassmen team where he was one of two players - along with Salpointe Catholic junior Chase Adams - from Southern Arizona.
The last time Smith was eye-level with his classmates was in kindergarten, said the junior. Always the tall kid, one would think that basketball has been his calling since early on but that is not the case. Smith didn't pick up the sport full-time until he was in 8th grade.
By the end of his 8th grade year, he could already dunk.
Colleges aren't the only ones lobbying for Smith's playing time. Mountain View volleyball head coach Rick Ellis has also been recruiting the lanky junior to join his squad this spring, said Ellis, who added his attempts to add the big man have been futile.
"I used to play football when I was a kid," said Smith. "I want a scholarship so I chose basketball over football."
Athleticism runs in his blood. His father, Chris Smith, was a linebacker for the University of Arizona and both of his older brothers - Caleb, a two-time All-American in the high jump, and Luke, a basketball player - at Pima Community College, have had successful athletic careers.
"They pretty much made me what I am, getting beat up and everything," said Smith of the tough love doled out by his brothers.
The basketball team, as well as all winter sports, will begin practicing on Oct. 30. Mountain View will begin its season on Nov. 20 with the Salpointe Thanksgiving Tournament against Ironwood Ridge High School.
Both Smith and Parillo are confident in the capability of this year's squad. A key to the team's success will be Smith's ability to dominate the paint, rather than rely solely on his outside shooting.
"I usually don't play down low much," said Smith. "If I have, to I'll step in there. I'll either drive or shoot and if I post up I'll usually do the hook shot or something. I don't post up that much."
Parillo will need to get points and rebounds from Smith down low. Word is, Ironwood Ridge has a sophomore who's 6-feet, 10-inches tall.