When the New Orleans Pelicans players used to pair off in teams for pickup games last month forward/center Jason Smith could only watch because he hadn’t been cleared yet for contact work after requiring surgery on his right shoulder in April.

But during Tuesday’s opening day of training camp at the Pelicans’ new practice facility Smith was back to his old self. Instead of watching he challenged shots and pursued rebounds during intense four-on-four drills.

Finally cleared for contact work last week it couldn’t had come soon enough for Smith who had spent the past five months going through a stringent rehabilitation program to strengthen his right shoulder after surgery.

Smith played with a torn labrum last season for almost three months before he re-injured his right shoulder in a Feb. 26 game against the Brooklyn Nets that ended his season.

``You see the guys putting in the hard work during the summer and I wanted to get back out there and show them that I still got it and I’m not just preaching’’ Smith said.

Second-year guard Austin Rivers said it was clearly noticeable that Smith 7 feet 240 pounds was back like last season when he was one of the Pelicans' top players off the bench.

``With him just being out there it just made the practice more alive and it felt like everybody was really into it'' Rivers said. ``When you have Jason out there talking it's contagious and everybody started getting into it. He's a leader first off and he's the most vocal guy on our team.''

Known for his unrelenting desire Smith is expected to provide help at center and could challenge Greg Stiemsma who was signed this summer as a free agent for the starting job. Smith also get minutes at power forward behind Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. But during the final five minutes of practice that was opened to the media Tuesday Smith worked with the second unit at center behind Stiemsma.

``He practiced the whole time and he looked pretty good’’ Williams said of Smith. ``There are no restrictions at all and didn’t show any signs of soreness.

``It’s important for us to have success this year and I feel like (Smith) and A.D. have to be healthy and play 70-plus games.When those two guys are on the floor we are a much better team along with Ryan. Jason brings an element of know how and intelligence. He knows what we do and he’s just gotten better.’’