With the same intensity she showed in her high school days, Kamari Smith breaks into the UT basketball program becoming a regular for Coach Tom Jessee.
The guard, an Orlando native, has been averaging 15 minutes per game and has seen action in 18 of the 19 games the Lady Spartans have played so far.
An Athletic Training major, Smith averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds at Ocoee High School, and before entering this season as a freshman, she already had her mind set on UT.
Daughter of former NBA player and current Orlando Magic’s General Manager, Otis Smith, Kamari did not have much trouble deciding whether to come to UT or not.
UT was the only school she visited regarding basketball.
“I instantly fell in love with it when I got here. People were nice, [and the] coaches were nice, you know. I felt that I could fit in with the team so it’s just the perfect fit,” Smith said.
But immediately after she had arrived, Smith knew that she had to get ready and contribute to UT’s upcoming season, especially since some of the most regular players from last season were not going to be back this year.
But the freshman knows what her strong points are and how to use them in order to help the team achieve big things.
“I mean my toughness, I guess. My ability to defend taller people because I have long arms [and] quickness, I’m able to attack the basket so I’m almost pretty sure that I can help with any team on a win. It’s a blessing, I feel important. Coach and I had an understanding when I came at the beginning; he wanted me to be an impact so I try my hardest to do whatever he wants me to do.” Smith said.
She also commented that she is quick to learn and always pushes herself in practices.
And all of that hard work paid off.
On Thu, Jan. 20, the Lady Spartans went to Lakeland to take on the Florida Southern Lady Mocs.
The game was set to be one of the most difficult ones for the UT squad, as their biggest rival was second in the standings.
That was the day when Kamari Smith started for the first time for UT.
The call had been made and even though she had experienced some minutes before at the college level, this was like nothing she had felt before.
“I’m not going to lie I was nervous, I was really nervous because of the big rival and the way they were talking and how awesome shooters they are. I was nervous at first but once I stepped on the court I was all calmed. But it was pretty exciting that I could start in a big game like that so I was excited,” Smith said.
Smith was in action for 16 minutes, scored two points and got four rebounds, shy numbers some might say.
But not for the guard who knows that opportunities like that one will keep coming in the future.
With a little more hard work the numbers will keep improving as well as her ability to keep competing at this level, a level that demands more out of her.
“It’s much faster. You do have to think, you have to be able to read a lot on the court. In high school [it] is easier to manage school and basketball while [it] is a little tougher in college to manage school and basketball,” Smith said. “As far as my contribution on the court I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do as a freshman.”
Smith also added that most freshman can’t handle the pressure, but she feels that she has done what she has needed to and is pleased with her performance.
Kamari has the wise advice of her dad Otis, who tries to be at every game to support and give his daughter advice when the clock has run out.
“Yes, he helps me with all my problems. Like if I think I didn’t do so well in a game he’d pick out the little stuff and say ‘Yeah you did the little stuff, you did well. I mean, you may have not scored a lot or whatever, but you did the little things,’” said Smith.
“He’ll help me boost my head up so I won’t be all down on myself and he also helps me with technique, reading and the little things on the court. He taught me most of it so he’ll help, like he’ll come to the game on Saturday and he’s going to tell me what I did wrong and what I did right, and that always helps.”
There are only eight games for the Lady Spartans left on the regular season and with a record of 17-2 the future is looking bright.
A team that seems to be doing everything from the little things to the major ones in order to continue its big season onto the playoffs and possibly the national championship.
Smith knows that those things will take the squad far.
“I feel that we’re a competitive team so we’re going to compete no matter what. We work hard [at] practice, the coaches push us so I think we’ll do good in the couple games we have left. As far as me, I see myself and I’ve grown a lot mentally, emotionally and I went through a lot here being away from home,” Smith said.
Arturo Uzcategui can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.