Sun May 23 09:00am EDT
For the first time since the New Year's Day arrest that altered the course of his career and threatened to derail Tennessee's season, Tyler Smith offered an explanation on why he had an unregistered pistol in the car he was driving.
Smith told the Nashville Tennesseean he bought the gun because someone had robbed his off-campus apartment and threatened via text message to kill him and his 3-year-old son. He still will not report the threats to the police nor will he name the "two or three guys" he suspects were out to get him, but he apparently felt it would improve his tarnished public image if he revealed more details of what led to his arrest.
"Once they texted me and put my son into it, it was a whole different story," Smith said. "I don't want to say that I needed the pistol, but I felt like it was better for me to have something. I wasn't going anywhere to start anything. I just didn't want to be
in a situation where I was running away from something with no protection."
The explanation from Smith gives more closure to an incident that spelled the end of his promising college career. He and Tennessee teammates Melvin Goins, Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum got pulled over in Knoxville for speeding on the afternoon of Jan. 1. The officer smelled marijuana in the vehicle and after further investigation discovered two guns, a bag of weed and a container of alcohol.
Dismissed from the team as a result of his arrest, Smith signed a two-year contract to play professionally in Turkey and had to watch from afar as Tennessee made a surprising run to within a victory of the Final Four without him. He excelled on the court in Turkey but stayed in close contact with his teammates in Knoxville, admitting it was "so hard" not being part of the NCAA tournament run.
If Smith could rewind his life six months, he would do a handful of things differently. He wouldn't have had marijuana or alcohol in the car, he would have purchased the gun legally, and he wouldn't have allowed his teammates to get in the vehicle without telling them about the gun.
"That was the wrong decision," Smith said. "I put them in a bad spot. If I told them I put the gun in the car, they probably wouldn't have gotten in that car."
There's no way to verify Smith's version of what led to his arrest, but to his credit, he's repeatedly expressed remorse and taken responsibility for his mistakes.
Smith intends to finish his degree at Knoxville and continue pursuing pro basketball. Hopefully his story has a happy ending.