Feb. 6, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Tyler Smithpeters is the last of five sons to play for legendary Harrisburg High School coach Randy Smithpeters, and he may turn out to be the best.
Three of his older brothers played junior college basketball, but Tyler became the only one to earn a Division I scholarship when he signed with Southern Illinois last spring. That's a point of pride for the 6-foot-3 guard who spent his childhood trying to measure up to his older siblings.
"Being the youngest out of the five brothers, there were a lot of fights in the backyard and in the gym growing up, a lot of walking home mad with bloody noses," he said. "It's probably where I get most of my competitiveness from."
That competitive, almost defiant spirit showed up early in his high school career.
"I'm not going to lie, I got kicked out of practice a couple of times for talking back to my dad," he admitted.
His fiery attitude helped him become one of the best high school players in Southern Illinois and deliver a Class 2A state championship to Harrisburg in 2013. Smithpeters and teammate Capel Henshaw, who now plays for Division II Lewis University, were the Co-Players of the Year in the area last season. The team finished 33-1 and Smithpeters was named First-Team All-State. Of all his high school accomplishments, though, he's most proud of the state title.
"My dad really wanted one and I wanted to be the first one to do it for him," Smithpeters said. "It also gave me bragging rights among my brothers because they didn't win a state championship."
He waited patiently for a Division I offer from nearby SIU that never seemed to come, and was about to make a visit to conference rival Evansville, when he received a call from Saluki head coach Barry Hinson with news of a scholarship.
"That was the one I wanted," he said. "It's the closest to home and ties in to the family."
"When I grew up and watched my brother play here, I wanted to follow in his footsteps and maybe do some bigger things than him," Smithpeters said.
Tyler's freshman season got off to a good start at Missouri, where he scored five points and played 26 minutes, but playing time quickly tailed off after that game. In fact, Smithpeters scored only five points combined in SIU's next 15 games and he didn't even make an appearance in five of those contests.
"I wasn't expecting to get a ton of minutes, but not playing at all made me hungry to get out there and work harder," he said.
His first big break came on Jan. 14 against Northern Iowa when he played 17 minutes and scored eight points.
"Being in there for longer minutes in the Northern Iowa game really helped me adapt to the college game," Smithpeters said.
After going scoreless at Bradley, the Harrisburg native poured in 12 points in 20 minutes against Drake and earned a starting spot lat Missouri State on Feb. 8. He answered the call against the Bears with a career-high 16 points and five assists. In the overtime win over Loyola last Saturday, he was 1-for-6 from the field but made two game-saving free throws with 1.0 second left in regulation.
"I think that the most impressive thing is that he's hung in there," said Hinson. "He's had his tail chewed out on several occasions, but he's a coach's son so he's used to that. His legs are fresh, and with our injuries he's been adapting to getting more playing time."
One of the knocks on Smithpeters is his slightly built 170-pound frame and whether it can hold up at the college level. He's gained a little bit of weight since coming to Southern, but the 20-year-old rookie says he has trouble maintaining it.
"I'll gain weight and then lose it right back," he explained. "Looking at my brothers, they're stockier, but you really never know."
Kyle was the same height as Tyler but 45 pounds heavier when he played at Southern, so perhaps staying trim is to Tyler's advantage.
"Kyle still says he can beat me but he can't really," Tyler laughed.