The Wastebasket in the far corner of assistant Photo Editor Brad Smith's office is surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper. Further inspection reveals that there's nothing in the basket. It's not that the 32-year-old Smith is a slob, it's just that he couldn't throw a penny in the ocean from the deck of the QE2.
This condition was first noticed in 1973, when he attended Orange Park (Fla.) High's ninth-grade basketball tryouts. "I was phenomenal on our driveway hoop against the neighborhood kids," Smith says. "But on the second day of tryouts I shot nothing but air balls. To be honest, the only reason I wasn't cut the first day was that I was absent."
As chance would have it, when Smith came to SI's photo department, in 1988, he was assigned the college basketball beat, and while he might not be able to make a good shot, he has proved that he can recognize one when it's put on a light table, which is how picture editors scrutinize color slides. All of the photographs for this week's College Basketball Preview package were reviewed in this manner by Smith.
Ten years ago, Smith arrived in New York City armed with a fine arts degree from the University of Florida, $400 stuffed in his shoe and a limited knowledge of the magazine business. "I always thought it would be cool to pick the pictures in magazines, but I didn't know there was a job like that until I came to New York," he says.
Smith survived his first six months in New York by sleeping in $12-a-night hotels—except when his cash flow dictated that he snooze at an all-night movie theater in Times Square or in his Toyota Starlet. Every night for a month, he ate a $1.89 plate of chicken chow mein, and he lists among his credentials the ability to name all the places in New York where you can take a free shower.
In 1982 he got his first publishing job, at Circus Magazine, a music publication, where he filed photos, including ones of rock star Ozzy Osbourne biting the heads off live animals. As a direct result, Smith says, he later worked a cathartic stint as assistant picture editor at Audubon magazine before joining SI.
One of Smith's biggest influences in photography is the classic black-and-white work of Elliott Erwitt, who shot the picture of Smith on this page. "Working with him was a thrill," says Smith. "It's something I've always wanted to do." Appropriately, Smith was the picture editor for SI CLASSIC, which was published this fall. Over the years, he has also edited the photos for three College Basketball Preview issues and three Final Fours, tasks which have inevitably placed him in the vicinity of the roundball. For this issue's cover shoot he worked on location at Duke with the Blue Devils' Christian Laettner, but Smith promises that at no time did he have the urge to challenge Laettner to a little one-on-one. "I know my basketball limitations," Smith says. "I've learned not to shoot for the stars."
Smith has been giving college basketball his best shots.