By Jeffery Armstrong
Jonesboro High basketball player Shadé Smith has earned just about every accolade in high school and now she's got the one accomplishment she's wanted ever since she watched the women's basketball team play in the 1996 Olympics: a full basketball scholarship to a Division I university.
Smith, the News-Daily 2005 Southern Crescent Girls Player of the Year, signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington Wednesday in her high school's main conference room. Smith signed her letter in front of friends, family, coaches, administrators and her teammates on the basketball team.
"This is a big relief for me and it feels really good," said Smith, who averaged 12 points per game and seven assists as a senior. "I chose UNC-Wilmington because the area was nice and the girls on the team treated me really well. I spent two days with them and I came away impressed."
Smith, who has never missed a start in her four years on the varsity team, said the head coach at UNC-Wilmington told her she has a good chance to get major playing time, and possibly start, as a freshman.
"If I work hard, which I will, I have a really good chance to start," she said. "I'm looking forward to playing college basketball."
Smith is also looking forward to going to college with her friend Candace Walker of North Atlanta High, who also signed a letter to attend UNC-Wilmington. She and Walker have played AAU basketball every year since they were 12-years-old and this year, they faced each other in the regular season for the first time. Jonesboro knocked North Atlanta out of state playoff contention.
"It will be nice to have Candace around with me at school - we should do well together," Smith said.
Smith said going to UNC-Wilmington will be similar to playing at Jonesboro; she'll have to make adjustments. During her freshman and sophomore years, she had to get the ball to the shooters on the team and as a junior, she had to do a bit more scoring once center Jasmine Duffey went down. During her senior year, she was the primary defensive stopper and the unquestioned team leader. She scored when necessary, handled the ball well and got teammates involved in the offense.
"I'll take with me to UNC-Wilmington the work ethic that was established here at Jonesboro. I'll also have the confidence that I helped turn a program around and I want to do the same in college," said Smith, an honor student (3.7 GPA) who plans to major in Biology. "I'll miss my family and friends, especially my best friend Ashley Seay, but I'm looking forward to going to the next level."
Smith's father Steve was very happy to see his oldest daughter sign her letter.
"It's a big relief to see this day come. We put a lot of hard work into basketball and it all paid off," he said. "Shadé really deserves to play at a Division I school. She's got great grades and she's helped Jonesboro win 75 percent of their games since she's been here."
Steve said he's most proud of the fact that Shadé is a good person as well as a good basketball player.
"What is nice about Shadé is that nobody has one bad thing to say about her character," he said. "I'm more proud of that than anything else."
Smith's mother Sadie is also proud of her daughter's character.
"We've brought her up to be a leader and she's been a great one here at Jonesboro," Sadie said. "I've always told her that she has to carry herself in the right way and people will respect her for it."
Jonesboro girls head basketball coach John Kovzel said the team will definitely miss Smith, who ended her career with 1,102 points, 560 assists and 361 steals. He said her quickness, court awareness and ball-handling skills were very valuable to the team.
"Shadé was great; she was a four-year starter at point guard and she put in a lot of hard work to be the best," he said. "A point guard is important to a team because the point has to help break the press and Shadé was great at it. She's left-handed, but she worked so hard on her right hand skills that most people thought she was right-handed."