The rise of Josh Smith

OPRF junior averaging 18 PPG this season

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

Any time Josh Smith steps onto a basketball court, he makes his presence known.

He has a spring in his step and in-game poise to attempt one-handed dunks in transition while possessing the ability to take on defenders off the dribble. Smith doesn't drive to the rim—he glides towards it.

His scoring prowess and innate ability to create space for himself has made Smith an intriguing college prospect heading into his final 18 months of high school basketball. He has several programs vying for his services and currently plays on an elite travel team (the Illinois Wolves) that features some of the best college prospects in the area (a list that includes Fenwick's Bryce Hopkins and OPRF teammate Isaiah Barnes).

"I want to play in the NBA," said Smith. "It would be cool to go into a well-regarded program and contribute in different ways. But I think it would also be incredible to go to a program where they need me to make an immediate impact and let me be free while also helping me develop."

Smith has made large steps towards polishing his game since his freshman year of high school. He was called up to OPRF's varsity team as a sophomore and has taken on a large role in the offense this season. He's averaging 18 points per game and has led the Huskies in scoring on a game-to-game basis since his coming out party at the 2020 Pontiac Holiday Tournament (he averaged 19.8 points and 4.3 rebounds at Pontiac).

While with the Wolves this past summer, Smith went toe-to-toe with some of the best high school players in the country during the team's nationals tournament in Atlanta. His coach Mike Mullins spoke highly of Smith's potential after seeing the junior perform on the big stage.

"He is just scratching the surface of what he can be," said Mullins. "He came back from his sophomore year a more polished basketball player and, for his age group, was one of the leading scorers at nationals. To see him do that for seven to eight games against high-end national competition, Josh didn't just look like he belonged there…he was thriving."

Josh and his father Ike Smith both said that the OPRF star began playing basketball when he was seven, but Josh added that he didn't start taking the sport seriously until he was in eighth grade. He attended basketball camps at Whitney Young High School, where the participants were split up into three groups: division-one, division-two and division three.

After impressing his instructors early on in the camp, Smith was part of the division-one section.

"I was still experimenting with other sports, like soccer, but I remember those camps because they were telling me I was good at basketball," said Josh. "I would play with the big kids and do pretty well against them. I had an idea that I could do this then, but it didn't really hit me until later on."

Ike didn't allow his son to play for his middle school team initially and, instead, instilled the importance of fundamentals. He had Josh study NBA players from different eras to mold the athlete he would end up becoming. As Josh began to grow into his body, Ike credited Josh for making adjustments to his shooting form without losing efficiency year to year as he aged into a young adult.

"My son has figured out what works for his body-type," said Ike. "He studies athletes and makes little tweaks to his own game. He changes his jump shot and ball handling every year because he is growing and knows that he has to make those adjustments to get to the next level. As he grows, he is shooting at a different height. He knew he couldn't shoot the same way he did the year before."

One of the most impressive aspects of Josh's game is his composure on the court.

During OPRF's game versus Christ the King on Feb. 8, Josh put up 29 points on the road. His family could sense he was upset, but he remained collected to lead the Huskies to an 84-47 win. Afterwards, Josh was asked how he stayed calm. He told his family that any time he shoots, he takes a breath and exhales in a way that stops his body from tightening up, a technique he learned from studying various athletes.

"I think people look at his laissez-faire approach and think he doesn't care," said Ike Smith. "But he cares quite a bit. What he likes to do is when these guys don't think he is paying attention, by the end of the game he has [25 points]. If he were in the military, he would be a sniper because at first he is unassuming and then all of a sudden, he is dominating."

It has yet to be determined where Josh will be sniping after he graduates OPRF in 2021, but he is taking everything as it comes, day by day.

"Honestly, I am just trying to stay on track and get better," said Smith. "It will all come together. I am sure of that."

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