FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith, a projected NBA Draft lottery pick who has missed 19 games this season while dealing with a right knee injury, could be close to making his second return to playing.
"Nick has practiced the last few days with us," Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said Wednesday. "Obviously he did not go on the road trip [to Kentucky] so he could continue to stay back here and work on his conditioning.
"We're optimistic and hopeful that Nick will be able to play some time here in the near future."
Arkansas' next game is 5 p.m. Saturday against Mississippi State at Walton Arena, but Musselman didn't mention a specific return date for Smith.
The Razorbacks' 88-73 victory at Kentucky on Tuesday night was the 13th consecutive game Smith has missed with what Arkansas has termed "management" of his right knee. He also missed the first six games with the same issue, then played in five games before being sidelined again.
The 6-5 Smith is averaging 12.8 points, but in the three games in which he played at least 24 minutes, he averaged 19.7 points.
The last time Smith played was on Dec. 17 when the Razorbacks beat Bradley 76-57 at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock. He left the game with 17:05 left in the second half and went to the locker room with trainer Matt Townsend.
When Smith came back from the locker room, he stayed on the bench for the rest of the game.
After playing six minutes off the bench in his college debut against Troy and going scoreless, Smith started against San Jose State and scored 16 points in 24 minutes in Arkansas' 99-58 victory.
In Smith's third game, he scored a season-high 22 points and played 39 minutes to lead the Razorbacks over North Carolina-Greensboro 65-58.
Smith scored 21 points in 29 minutes to help Arkansas beat Oklahoma 88-78 in Tulsa but didn't play the final 5:32 after taking himself out of the game. He had five points in 20 minutes against Bradley.
The Razorbacks (17-7, 6-5 SEC) are 12-7 in games Smith has missed, but they've won five consecutive conference games.
Smith was USA Today's National Player of the Year and a McDonald's All-American as a senior at North Little Rock High School after he averaged 26.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists. He was a preseason first team All-SEC pick by the media and a third-team All-American pick by Blue Ribbon magazine.
After Smith averaged 21.5 points against UNC-Greensboro and Oklahoma, he was selected as National Freshman of the Week by CBS Sports and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He also was recognized by long-time ESPN analyst Dick Vitale as his national "Diaper Dandy" Star of the Week and shared SEC co-Freshman of the Week honors with Alabama forward Noah Clowney.