Allen Iverson stepped onto the basketball court that December night in 1995. After all, it wasn't "practice" — Iverson's famous nemesis — it was a game, and Iverson was the first player on the floor for warm-ups as Georgetown prepared to play St. Leo.

Near the opposite bench, a 6-year-old boy was watching as the player clad in gleaming blue-and-gray approached. The boy playfully kicked a basketball in his direction.

A goodwill gesture from a 6-year-old? Iverson couldn't resist. He scooped up the tyke and a basketball, and stepped toward the court-end basket. Hoisted high in Iverson's arms, Drew Smyly made his first official two-pointer.

"I actually grew up in the gym," Smyly was saying this week, sitting on a sofa in the Tigers clubhouse, and recalling the years when his dad, Todd, was a college basketball coach prone to bringing his son to work.

Basketball then. Baseball today.

Smyly's early experience in and around sports has teamed with genetics to deliver the Tigers a starting pitcher whose calm has impressed them as much as his pitches.

A left-hander on a staff dominated by right-handed starters, Smyly is a near-certainty to win a job in the rotation following a rookie year during which he rarely behaved like a beginner. He won his first game at Yankee Stadium, on April 28, when he treated New York rather roughly with a two-hit, seven-strikeout stint spanning six innings.

He seemed downright casual during the American League Championship Series, when he pitched in a pair of games against the Yankees, allowing a single hit in 2-1/3 innings for his part in a four-game sweep that sent the Tigers into the World Series.

"I'm very even-keeled," Smyly, 23, said, speaking of a 12-month saga that has taken him from prospect to a likely home on manager Jim Leyland's staff. "It's just how I am. Is it from my dad's coaching? Just my personality? I don't know. I try not to get too angry or emotional."