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Women’s basketball standout Jahira Smith ’13 approaches scoring record
Jan. 16, 2013 (updated Feb. 13, 2013)
Jahira Smith ’13 is on track to become CCRI’s best-ever female basketball player. As a child, she loved the game but didn’t have a park to go to near her family’s home in Norwich, Conn. Without a court to play on or a hoop to shoot for, she endlessly dribbled, charged and dodged up and down her street.
The result is an expert ball handler who, in the words of Community College of Rhode Island Women’s Basketball Coach Kate Lynch, “can get to the basket pretty much whenever she wants.”
Smith is in her second year as co-captain of the Lady Knights and has already broken the college’s record for career steals with 237 and counting. She is the first player to ever record 200 steals and is on track to break two more records by the end of the season, uniting under one name titles formerly held by four different women.
She set four single-season records in her first year at the college: assists (183), steals (128), free throws (123) and single-game assists (a tie at 14). This year she has more records in her sights. With 266 assists, she is just nine away from besting the college’s all-time assists leader, Nicole Girard (274). With 28 more free throws, she will set that career mark as well, which is held by Jerilynn Johnson (183). Smith has scored 918 points and needs 39 more to surpass Amanda Ward (956) as CCRI’s all-time leading scorer.
These achievements would make Smith the first female basketball player at CCRI to top 1,000 points. “She’ll be on the record books for a really long time,” Lynch said.
Smith isn’t letting it get to her head. “I didn’t even know I was breaking those records until the day of, or the day before,” she said. “I just let it happen. I just played the game.”
At 5 feet 8 inches tall, Smith may not look like an archetypal ball player, but her athleticism is obvious. She moves with an easy, buoyant energy, as if in a perpetual jump shot or defense-beating drive into scoring position.
And on the court she is a dynamo.
“She is our engine,” Lynch said, “and what she does, we do. The attitude that she takes on the court is the attitude that we adopt.”
Smith played a lot as a point guard last year, a position that is primarily responsible for moving the ball up the court toward the basket. These players must be able to protect the ball from defending players and pass it to teammates who are in scoring position. They have to be aware of the flow of action on the court and are often called “floor generals” for their decisive ability to control how their team attempts to score.
All of these requirements were a great fit for a player whose childhood practice routine was based almost entirely on dribbling, but Smith knew she needed to develop shooting skills, too. Coming off of a disappointing season-ending loss to Lackawanna College in last year’s district championship, Smith spent hours on the court alone during the summer, just shooting.
This year she is the Lady Knights' best shooting guard, tasked with getting into an open position on the fringes of the action and making shots. Now she is edging in on the records for free throws, assists and overall points.
“Coming from where I was in high school, a lot of people wouldn’t have expected me to do what I’ve done, so I’m very proud of myself,” Smith said.
When Smith was on her high school team two years ago, she spent a lot of time on the bench. “I wasn’t really looked upon as a basketball player who can make things happen,” she said. “I just needed an opportunity to show what I can do, and I got that at CCRI. This is a good environment to be in and I love my coaches and teammates here.”
Smith has been accepted to Claflin University in South Carolina, where she will complete her basketball career. “I love the game of basketball, but I see an end to it after college,” she said.
She intends to study criminal justice, inspired by her mother who took some classes in the subject before having to leave college to care for her family.
“I love law enforcement,” Smith said. “I think it comes from spending time with my mother as a kid. She would always watch 'Law and Order' … and all of those shows, and I would be right there next to her.”
Smith’s mother and 12-year-old brother live in North Carolina and will be able to see her play much more often after she transfers. “They love watching me play and my brother looks up to me a lot, even though he’s starting to get into football,” Smith said.
The Lady Knights' regular season ends in February and as the No. 11-ranked team in the country, they are shoe-ins for the district championship. Smith said she hopes to make it to regionals and earn a rematch with Lackawanna.
“Last year, I feel like we wanted it so bad that we just let it go,” she said. “We had it, and once we felt like we had it, that was it. Now we know how that feels and we won’t let it happen again.”
She added, “I just want to see us succeed as a team and as individuals.”