Ray Smith could not help but smile at Arizona's media day last month, barely able to contain his excitement for the upcoming season.
After tearing the ACL in both knees over the previous two seasons, he had every reason to be amped up.
His elation did not make it past the first game and now his career is over.
Smith's difficult basketball career took another frustrating turn on Tuesday night when the redshirt freshman had to be helped from the court during the No. 10 Wildcats' exhibition game against College of Idaho.
On Thursday, Arizona coach Sean Miller announced what everyone had hoped would not be the case: Smith tore his right ACL for the second straight year, along with meniscus damage.
The torn ACL was Smith's third in three years, leading him to end his basketball career.
“I love the game of basketball, but I have decided to step away from the game for good,” Smith said. “I will still be involved with the team and I will still attend THE University of Arizona.”
Smith went down early against College of Idaho, setting off a collective groan from the McKale Center crowd. He walked off the court to the locker room and returned to the game.
Midway through the second half, he went down again and didn't get up. Smith crumpled from the non-contact injury and immediately gestured for help. He was carried off the court.
Arizona said in a statement that Smith will have surgery within a month and begin the rehabilitation process.
“In the 25 years I have been a college basketball coach, I have never felt as helpless as I did when I saw him go down on Tuesday night,” Miller said in a statement.
“No 19-year-old kid should have to experience three season-ending injuries in a 30-month period of time. I have watched Ray work with our strength and conditioning coach tirelessly for two years. I have seen him in our training room around the clock, doing everything he can to play the game he loves. To witness his extraordinary efforts and see this happen to him once again is beyond disheartening.”
Smith was one of the nation's top high school recruits out of Las Vegas, an athletic 6-foot-8 forward who played above the rim and was a versatile defender.
He missed his senior season at Las Vegas High School after tearing his left ACL, but was expected to join Allonzo Trier and Justin Simon as the next stars in Tucson last season.
Instead, Smith tore his right ACL in practice before the season began.
Following a lengthy rehabilitation, Smith returned to the Wildcats this season, ready to get his career back on track.
“The last two years, I would say, imagine someone who starved for two years,” Smith said recently. “How much I wanted to compete and watching them compete, that just hurt me and for a while, I just didn't feel like myself. Finally getting a taste of that competition, I'm finally getting my swagger back, starting to believe in who I am.”
Now Smith has to go through it all over again.
Miller said last month that he planned to ease Smith back into the fold by limiting his minutes in games, possibly giving him time off at practice. The goal was to give Smith time to regain his strength and confidence.
Smith had no trouble running and jumping in practice, but was not able to make it through his first game back.
“My father once told me that just because someone is a good basketball player doesn't make them a good person. That the sport doesn't define who we are only what we can do,” Smith said. “Pretty much what I'm saying is thank you BASKETBALL you've been GREAT!”