Utes coach Craig Smith was breaking down film when his wife went into labor. Years later, he wouldn’t miss this moment with his son

Prep spotlight: Carson Smith just scored his 1,000th point in high school, unlocking a lifetime of basketball memories between coach and son.

Bountiful • The play itself was a piece of basketball beauty.

Bountiful High head coach Gus Sopeña called out “Spin.” His forward would come off a few screens, slip behind the defense and rise up for an easy lob. Execute it well, and it would be open.

Sure enough, out of the timeout, Carson Smith slithered free and laid it in at the rim.

“I should’ve” dunked it, Smith said with a laugh after. “I didn’t realize how high I was.”

Dunk or not, the bucket during a win last week over Viewmont marked Smith’s 1,000th career point. And the player who grew up a coach’s kid hit his scoring milestone in a way that would make any coach proud: a well-executed inbounds set.

Runnin’ Utes head coach Craig Smith celebrated the moment with Carson, their family and his teammates during a timeout afterward.

“I actually didn’t know how many points I was at,” the younger Smith said. “When coach called timeout, he’s like, ‘We got to get Carson a bucket.’ And then it kind of clicked. Oh, I’m probably close. But it means a lot.”

Smith wasn’t trying to force it, though. And that might say something bigger about his basketball journey — and the relationship between father and son.

Craig Smith, now in his third year at Utah, never required his kids to come to practice or games. Basketball was always there, but he let Carson determine where he wanted to take it and what relationship he’d have with the game. He’d just be there to support.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah men’s basketball head coach Craig Smith runs his team through drills at the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

When Carson was born, Craig was the head coach of Mayville State — a small NAIA school in North Dakota. He was leading a film session when his wife, Darcy, went into labor. Craig had given his phone to two of his assistants, Justin Johnson and Justin Forbes, and told them to alert him if Darcy texted.

“I never bring my phone to film,” he said. “Sure enough, we’re in film and Darcy texts JJ. She’s like, ‘My water just broke.’ I was like, ‘OK, just a few more plays. Watch a few more clips.’”

It wasn’t until his captain, Archie Witherspoon, stood up and said, “Coach, you have to go,” that he finally got the message.

“When Archie said that, it’s like, ‘OK,’” Craig said. “We had to drive an hour to the hospital.”

He never formally coached Carson’s teams. If he wanted to come to the gym, he was welcome and he’d walk him through it. But it was his choice.

“I never believed in that,” Craig said. “They have to find their own spark.”

Carson — along with his older brother Brady Smith, who plays at Salt Lake Community College — wanted to take it all in. When Craig became an assistant at Colorado State, Carson would come to the arena early on game day and shoot. At Craig’s next stop in Nebraska, he’d sit in on practice.

“I just remember going to all these games. I loved going,” Carson said. “I’ve always had a ball in my hand. I love the game.”

By the time Craig got the head coaching job at South Dakota, they moved to Vermillion with a population of less than 12,000. It was so small that they lived five minutes away from the arena.

Carson was in second grade and could go shoot whenever he wanted. The family stayed until he was in seventh grade.

“He’s just a [basketball] junkie,” Craig said. “I’ll rebound for him, watch film with him or try to give him some pointers. But he’s not one of those guys who needs a workout guy. ... He’s going to find a way to get in the gym.”

It led him to become an extremely efficient scorer and a star at Bountiful. He plays like the son of a coach, rarely taking bad shots. When asked about where he wants to grow his game, he first talks about defense and then how he “just wants to be a team player.”

As a freshman, he played some varsity at Green Canyon near Logan, playing alongside his senior brother. When Smith got the job at Utah, Carson enrolled at Bountiful and now averages just under 20 points a game as a senior.

He’ll play at the next level somewhere. His recruitment consists of Division I, Division II and junior colleges.

“I’m not really worried about it,” Carson said. “I’ve always thought, just work hard and the other stuff will come. Just focus on what I’m doing right now. The work I’m putting in right now and focus on this season with our team winning state.”

On off days, he and his dad will now talk about the game like two basketball junkies. They watch the NBA, an endeavor that can take hours. Craig will pause it constantly and walk Carson through little details — even if it can get a little frustrating.

But it’s moments like scoring 1,000 points where both coach and son can take stock of the journey, one that Craig calls “surreal.”

It’s not because Carson can hit big shots or lead his team to a 14-5 record. It’s because he did it on his own — chose it on his own. And Craig is just there to watch.

“Super proud of him as a father, because he works,” Craig said. “He works at it. He’s always in the gym. He’s doing everything he can to be the very best and a super determined kid.”