Ja'Vonte Smart takes nothing for granted. The Scotlandville High School junior point guard is thankful for all victories, on and off the court.
Eight days after leading the Hornets to the LHSAA Division I select title, there's something else to celebrate: Smart on Monday was named the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight year.
"It means a lot," he said. "To be able to win an award like this once is special. Being able to win it a second time and to help my team win a state title is even more special."
The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder led the Hornets to a 31-4 record this season. He averaged 25.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.1 blocks and was named MVP of the state title game for a second time. He concluded his junior year with 2,219 points in his high school career and has led the Hornets to two state titles.
But there is more to Smart's game than wins and statistics, said Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample and Jeff Jones, coach of rival Madison Prep.
"That is quite an accomplishment," Sample said. "And he is very deserving of it. Some guys are satisfied with things like this, but not him. This award will make Ja'Vonte work that much harder. That's who he is. I like the fact that this award is based on academics and character, too. He made great strides toward being a great leader — not just on the court, but off it, too. I look for that to continue also."
Smart has volunteered locally as a youth basketball coach and counselor and has maintained a 3.32 weighted GPA.
"I've always said that Ja'Vonte is a better person than a basketball player," Jones said. "And when I see good things like this happen for a good person who works so hard and does the right things, you can't help but feel good about it. I think he got better as a facilitator. He makes everybody around him better, and he does whatever it takes. The first time we played Scotlandville, he played down in the post because they needed him there."
The road to the title was not easy for the Hornets. Scotlandville came from behind to notch a 47-44 win over rival McKinley in the state semifinals. In the championship game, the Hornets had to rally to beat Brother Martin 53-52, with Smart hitting two free throws to secure the title.
"McKinley came out ready, and we expected that," Smart said. "It took all of us playing together as a team. I relied on my team, and they relied on me. Brother Martin came at us the whole game, too, and when I was put in position to help my team at the end, I was able to make the free throws."
Smart joins Trey Touchet (2013-14 and 2012-13, St. Thomas More), Rico Gathers (2011-12 and 2010-11, Riverside), Matt Derenbecker (2009-10 and 2008-09, Country Day) and Greg Monroe (2007-08 and 2006–07, Helen Cox) as double winners of the Gatorade award.
As the Gatorade Player of the Year, Smart will select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a $1,000 grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program.