Smith proves his worth in Bobcats’ title run         

Published 8:51 am Monday, March 18, 2024

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EAST LANSING — Ja’Torian Smith overcame tough times and found his stride as a key piece of the equation as Niles Brandywine claimed a Division 3 boys basketball title Saturday at the Breslin Center.

Smith, a 6-foot-6 senior center, evolved into the X-Factor the No. 3-rated Bobcats needed off the bench throughout the season and during their magical tournament run.

On the final weekend of the season, Smith shined on prep basketball’s biggest stage.

In Saturday’s 56-48 state championship win over Detroit Old Redford, Smith scored seven points, hauled down 10 rebounds and blocked two shots for Brandywine.

Then there was the heroics that Smith provided in Brandywine’s 51-48 state semifinal overtime win over No. 6-ranked McBain.

In that contest, Smith poured in a game-high 19 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with time running out. He finished that game shooting 6-of-12 (50 percent), including 3-of-8 on 3-point attempts, and made 4-of-7 free-throw tries while also grabbing four rebounds and collecting two steals.

When he first arrived at Brandywine, Smith, a transfer from Niles High School, admits he wasn’t sure how things would go for him in his new environment.

“From day one I knew I had to find a way to fit in here at Brandywine. It was a rough start for sure because they went to the Final Four so there are high standards in this program,” Smith explained.

“Before I came here I had just about given up on everything, but then got into my new surroundings and eventually got a positive vibe with my new team. After that it has just been an amazing journey for myself and my teammates.”

Long-time Brandywine boys’ coach Nathan Knapp pointed to Smith’s hardwork to fit in and prove himself as a key to his Smith’s success.

“When Jaytee first arrived, he had a lot to learn. He had that height, but was kind’ve raw. He pushed himself in the weight room but it wasn’t an easy thing for him to step into a demanding program,” Knapp said.

“To be successful our kids realize they have to be there for one another and can’t make miscues. It’s accountability. There were times when it didn’t go so well for Jaytee, but he stuck with it and made big strides in just one season with us. I wish I had him for two or three more years. He just blossomed so well and just kept believing and buying into what we were trying to do. Kids with his kind of work ethic are hard to come by. It’s fun to coach kids like that.”