COVINGTON, Ga. — The high school basketball season is done. The major players for the Newton Rams, a trio of seniors, are either committed or weighing options as to what college they’ll attend in the fall. That means those of us left behind in Covington who are thinking about high school ball are looking at the scene with an eye on who’s got next.
At Newton, it seems that no matter who goes there’s always someone coming, waiting in the wings to continue the Rams’ tradition of being a state tournament regulars. Among others, junior Shawn Smith is already at work, shaping his game to be the go-to guy for Newton for the 2019-20 season.
Smith burst onto the varsity scene fresh off the JV squad, and made an immediate impact, averaging 8.5 points per game, along with four rebounds, three assists and two steals per contest. The 6-foot-1 guard tallied a career-high 25 points against Lambert in the first state tournament start of his career.
Taking no time off, Smith is now turning heads and raising eyebrows on the AAU circuit with the Team Strap 17U squad headed by former Eastside star and Iowa State standout, Marquis Gilstrap. Just last Thursday, Smith knocked down a buzzer-beater jumper from the elbow as time expired to lift Team Strap to a 56-54 win over Team Pete Bluejays 17U.
Sports editor Gabriel Stovall recently caught up with Smith talk about his first season on varsity, his AAU and offseason work and expectations and the Newton players, other than himself, folks need to watch for next season.
Gabriel Stovall: You came up from JV and settled in well on varsity last season to help bolster a backcourt that felt the loss of Ashton Hagans leaving early. How long did it take for you to get adjusted to being a varsity start in Class AAAAAAA, and what was the hardest part about it?
SHAWN SMITH: “It didn’t really take long at all. I’d say may be a couple of games. The hardest part really was just building chemistry with my teammates.”
STOVALL: Now with Armani Harris, Tre Clark and Tyrease Brown all likely headed to play for D-1 schools, the spotlight for next season falls on you a bit more. What are you already doing differently to prepare yourself to be one of the team’s top guys next season?
SMITH: “Really the main thing I’ve been doing differently is I’ve been in the weight room and in the gym a whole lot more than last year. I am sure next year will be a challenge, but I’m definitely ready to take it head on.”
STOVALL: I’ve seen you already showing out on the AAU circuit. What’s it like playing for Team Strap, and how have you already seen yourself improving?
SMITH: “Playing for Team Strap is a very fun experience. The coaches, the players and the parents all believe in me which is important to me and my success with the team. As far as improving, I see myself already improving with scoring the ball more and spreading the floor and just finding open teammates.”
STOVALL: Coming into the offseason, what is the thing you know you have to get better at in order to take your game to the next level.
SMITH: “Coming into the offseason I am focusing on really improving my jump-shot. I believe if that gets better, then I can really take my game to that next level.”
STOVALL: Over the last couple of years, Newton has had some big time players come through. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from them?
SMITH: “Yeah, there’s definitely been a lot of talent to come through Newton, and I’ve learned from a few of them. But I would say that the one of the biggest things I’ve learned from them was the importance of being a vocal leader.”
STOVALL: What is the single most thing you’re looking forward to in the offseason? What are you most looking forward to for your senior season?
SMITH: “Really, this offseason I’m just looking forward to elevating my game in general, and maybe getting noticed by a few coaches (on the recruiting trail). For my senior season, I’m really just looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and have fun playing the game that I love.”
STOVALL: Who are some Newton returners you think will surprise some people with their development next season?
SMITH: “I really believe Maxwell Calloway, Doug Moore and Jaiden Hall are guys to watch. I think those guys are really going to open up a few eyes next season.”