Has everything Scotlandville High’s Ja’Vonte Smart touched in the last three months turned to gold?
It sure seems like it. Now the soon-to-be sophomore point guard has the real thing.
Smart brought home a gold medal this week after helping USA Basketball’s under-16 team win the FIBA Americas title in Argentina.
“I like playing fast, so that wasn’t a problem. The (USA) coaches liked playing fast, too,” Smart explained. “I got to know my teammates pretty quick. We got better and better the more we played together. In the finals, at first we were playing bad. But we picked it up.”
There were no victory celebrations for the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Smart when he returned home. Just more trips to the gym. Smart played for the Hornets’ summer league team in a Thursday night game.
“We’re all proud of him for what he’s accomplished,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said. “He’s handled everything so well. He’s such a humble kid who’s always encouraging his teammates.
“He’s a special talent … one of those guys who come along not very often.”
Smart averaged 15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and a 5.2 assists per game to help the Hornets to their third Class 5A state title in four seasons.
After making a 3-pointer with five seconds left that lifted Scotlandville to a 62-60 win over C.E. Byrd in the semifinals, Smart was voted the Outstanding Player after scoring 18 points when the Hornets beat Natchitoches Central 42-34 in the title game.
Frosh Game Over? Hardly. Playing for USA Basketball’s under-16 squad put Smart on a new level.
“I just played hard. I didn’t know I was going to make the team,” Smart recalled. “I kept fighting through. We had a long practice every day. I just had to keep playing hard.”
Smart spent a couple of weeks, including his 16th birthday, in training camp with the USA squad in Colorado Springs.
“When he’s out of town, I have to call him,” Smart’s mother, Melinda, said. “He’ll call his brother or Facetime his sister. His birthday was June 3, and I called him on Facetime and sang ‘Happy Birthday’. The whole time he was looking at me like ‘I’m ready to get off the phone.’ But really he doesn’t like to talk that much. That’s just J.”
Melinda Smart wasn’t worried about her son going outside the country for the first time. Along the way, she found a family connection. Her distant cousin, former McKinley and Indiana standout Keith Smart, now an assistant coach for the Miami Heat, played for a USA Basketball squad in 1987.
Using translators to navigate an area in which few people spoke fluent English was the toughest adjustment in Argentina. Smart and his teammates were impressed by the fact that they stayed in a hotel owned by San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili.
The one thing that did translate was Team USA’s game. Smart started all but one game as the 16-under squad won five straight games en route to the title.
Smart play his best offensive game in a 119-76 semifinal win over host Argentina, scoring 11 points, including three 3-pointers. He had four assists in a 115-51 win over the Dominican Republic. He made just one shot in the title game, but it helped start a rally that led to a 77-60 victory over Canada.
“There are a lot of people out there who really want to be great,” Smart said. “So you can never quit working hard. That’s the biggest thing I learned from this.”
Smart leaves Monday to begin workouts with his AAU team, Elfrid Payton Elite, in Atlanta. There are camps and tournaments on Smart’s agenda.
The rave reviews about Smart’s game on the court continue to come.
“Randy Livingston was a great freshman, and so was Howard Carter,” said Live Oak coach Gary Duhe, who coached Carter at Redemptorist. “I think it’s fair to say he’s the best freshman we’ve had the last 20 years. It’s not just his talent. It’s how he handles himself on and off the court.”
Baylor, Wake Forest and UMass have already reportedly offered Smart scholarships. Kentucky, LSU, Texas, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and Oklahoma are among those already expressing interest. And the recruiting process is just getting started.
Smart has a sibling, sophomore-to-be Davyon, who looks to join the Scotlandville varsity. Melinda Smart has an agenda that has nothing to do with basketball.
“He has a 3.4 (grade point average) right now, and I’m kind of mad,” Melinda Smart said of Ja’Vonte. “It should be higher. He’s in the engineering magnet program, and he takes all honors classes.
“I’ve told him he has to pick that 3.4 up. I’ve told him you can’t be a star on the court and not be one in the classroom.”
So is the sky the limit for Ja’Vonte Smart? Likely in more ways than one.