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Smith preps for senior season with an eye on bigger things

South Boston News
Smith / April 16, 2020
When former HCHS Comet James Smith Jr. signed a letter of intent in 2017 to attend Virginia State University, his basketball career seemed to be taking off.

Smith had been a standout player while playing on the varsity Comets basketball team earning All-District, All-Conference and 5A North Region honors. Upon graduation he had multiple colleges looking to have him come play basketball for them, including Division 1 schools VCU, Liberty and Longwood. D2 schools included UNC-Greensboro, Catawba College, Chowan University, Concord University, Louisburg College and Elizabeth City State University, amongst others.

Virginia State was Smith’s choice because the Trojans had a point guard approaching his senior year and Smith felt he would be able to come to the team and have immediate impact and playing time. The school also offered a full scholarship.

But with all plans, things change and after his sophomore season Smith was considering transferring to another college.

And it wasn’t because he wasn’t getting any playing time. In his first two seasons with VSU Smith knocked down 24-of-55 shots, was two-of-nine beyond the arc, went six-of-nine at the free throw line and put up some decent defensive stats.

“My first year at VSU was great — I played a lot as a true freshman,” Smith said. “I decided to leave because I wanted to lead a team and take an okay team and make them better.”

And Smith looked towards Ferrum.

The Panthers were 15-12 overall and 9-7 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for the 2019-20 season.

Smith said another factor also helped him transfer, and that was Ferrum had also just signed two additional Comets — Michael Spraggins and Kendal Dixon. “The two Comets did influenced me,” he said.

Another factor in the move to Ferrum was Smith wasn’t required to sit out a season. Ferrum is a D-3 college where VSU was D-2. “Í got to play right away because I transferred down a division,’ Smith said.

Smith’s impact with the team was felt immediately. He had a solid inaugural season with the Panthers playing in 25 games.

Those games produced some great numbers for the guard who will be entering his senior season this year. Smith played in 25 games, averaging right at 24 minutes per game.

He connected on 41 percent of his baskets in conference action. He also shot 43.1 percent behind the three-point line and held his own at the charity stripe, knocking down 71 percent of his freebies.

He also collected 63 rebounds, handed out 52 assists and garnered 20 steals. Smith’s overall point total was 334 points, 193 of those coming in ODAC play.

The rising senior is majoring in physical education and plans to graduate in 2021. Smith said he is proud of his accomplishments this past season. He believes that his final year at Ferrum will help him enter the pros, whether in the U.S. or overseas.

“I had a great season which I thought I could’ve been better, but I do feel like I’m in a position to make pro dreams come true with overseas deals,” Smith said.

Smith said the change of school has presented its challenges. He noted for the most part he has a good relationship with the players and coaches and likes the college. Ferrum’s head basketball coach is Tyler Sanborn, the assistant is Patrick Corrigan.

“When I got to Ferrum I got along with guys and coaches,” Smith said. “We had some disagreements but everyone has those.”

Smith has high aspirations for himself and the team this season. He noted making the first-team list in every category possible is his goal moving forward.

“I hope to make first team everything and move on to be a pro and win a ring,” Smith said.

Like most college students, Smith now finds himself at home taking online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says he’s grateful to have the classes available but feels that this may not be the best method of learning for himself.

“I think it can be hard; I think it can be harder than going to school because you lose focus. I feel like doing it online is kind of harder ‘cause you really don’t get that first hand reaction with your teachers and stuff.”

As he prepares for his last season of college sports, Smith said he’s doing all he can to keep in shape. With the closing of so many businesses, gyms and the YMCA, one has to be innovative to stay in shape.

“Right now all the gyms are closed so I’ve been lifting and running,” Smith referring to his home workouts. “I’ve been dribbling the ball outside but really just lifting and running..”

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