COVINGTON, Ga. — Perhaps Newton girls basketball coach Tiffani Johnson said it best in the final practices leading up to the Lady Rams’ state championship game against Westlake. “Lexii (Chatman) is our energy, but Jurnee Smith is our poise.”
Smith averaged 17 points six assists and four rebounds during her senior campaign, but beyond the stats, the 5-foot-7 senior took her game to another level on the state’s biggest stage — the state tournament.
Game after game during the postseason, Smith stepped up to hit clutch free throws, drain big shots and make floor-general style plays — many times helping lead Newton to come-from-behind victories in tournament play. These are a few of the reasons why she’s selected as our All-Covington News girls Player of the Year.
Stovall: First, congratulations on this award and a tremendous season. How do you feel about the way people are starting to wake up to your talents?
Jurnee: I feel good. I feel like I proved myself. Because at first I felt like people were really sleeping on me and my talents, but I believe I woke them up and I did it the right way. Doing it on the court, not being selfish, taking good shots, being a good passer, being a leader on the floor, being vocal and uplifting my teammates instead of being all to myself and only looking for me. I Was not that.
Stovall: Coach Tiffani Johnson says you were the poise of the team. Where does that poise come from?
Jurnee: Honestly, I don’t know. I just never show emotion on the basketball court because coaches sometimes may look at that and take it the wrong way, so I just stay humble on the court and keep myself together.
Stovall: How long have you adopted that show-no-emotions policy?
Jurnee: I’d say when I started middle school. Because, you know, as a kid, you’re going to have your ups and downs playing the game and you don’t really know the game. But once I got into middle school I learned what to do and what not to do on the court as far as how you conduct yourself.
Stovall: Tell me about that video you posted on Twitter from your freshman year showing you cross up a defender all the way to the ground.
Jurnee: “During the game, that’s a moment I’ll never forget. I just remember going down the court making that move. I didn’t realize I made her fall until after the game. I just remember the crowd going 'ohh and ahh.' It was a great feeling. Knowing I was a freshman at the time and she was a senior from Heritage. She was older than me. It felt good knowing that I was able to do that to her.”
Where it all started ❄️ freshman year 🤧 pic.twitter.com/PpHaPLa2wI— Jurneè Smith (@Taneiyah_Smith) March 15, 2018
Stovall: How awesome was it for you to be able to finish your senior year with not just the accolades, but playing for a state championship?
Jurnee: “It felt real good, especially doing it with the other five seniors. Me and Erianna (Card) always talked about how we’re not graduating without going to play for a state championship, and we did it. We may not have won, but we can say we made it to the state championship.”
Stovall: What will you miss most about your playing days at Newton High School?
Jurnee: “The bonding. Team wise I don’t think I can be on another team that had a bond like this year. I feel like it was one of a kind. Nobody could break us up. If we did have a little conflict it would always go back right. We were never cliqued up. We were always one.”