COVINGTON, Ga. — Here’s how much Newton’s Je-Nya Smith misses playing basketball with her Lady Rams’ teammates.
Smith, sidelined since tearing her ACL in Newton’s Final Four win against McEachern, misses running punishment laps with her team.
“It really hurts, man, just to watch them and not be able to participate with them,” Smith said. “Like, say if everybody gets in trouble and we all have to do laps, it hurts for me not to be able to be out there doing the laps with them. It’s like I’d do anything to be out there with my team.”
Smith has been equally missed by coaches and teammates as well, to the point where Lady Rams coach Tiffani Johnson said she felt her team could’ve stood a much better shot at defeating Westlake in the Class AAAAAAA state championship game last season.
That’s how valuable the 5-foot-8 combo guard is to her team — and it goes beyond her close-to-double figures scoring average. Smith said she’s always sought to be a leader for the Lady Rams, but now even more so as next year’s team will be missing six seniors who were valuable to the championship run.
“When I couldn’t run or do any plays during the summer, I would just work on shooting free throws and watching the team run plays,” she said. “I’d explain to them what they’re doing and how they can get better at doing what they’re doing. A lot of people are thinking like this is going to be a rebuilding process, but I don’t think we’re rebuilding. I think we’re building on what we already have.”
Along with Smith’s return next season, the Lady Rams have other returnees like rising senior forward Jada Franklin who’s proven herself to be a perimeter threat, along with Diamond Swift who will likely do her best to restore some of the scoring punch left after the graduation of Jurnee Smith and Lexii Chatman.
Post players like Rachel Hilliard, a solid contributor since her sophomore season two years ago, are now the kinds of players Smith believes can step in to fill the voids.
“We lost those six seniors, but the people we had behind them in those same positions are getting a lot better,” Smith said. “We’re out getting it in and putting in the work every day.”
That includes Smith who has done everything possible to keep her mind basketball sharp even as her body mends. In hindsight, the injury may actually prove to be a catalyst in helping Smith improve in other areas she may not have been attentive to if fully healthy.
“One thing that’s helped is I do a lot of dribbling drills,” she said. “I dribble all the time along with the free throw shooting. And I do a lot of rehab with all my coaches. It makes me slow down and think about some of the other aspects of my game.
The progress is coming. At the beginning of summer workouts back in May, she believed she’d be ready to run within a month or two. That thought was confirmed when she tweeted out some good news about her progress recently.
“Today I am 12 weeks and five days post-op which means I’m allowed to jog as soon as I get my function brace at my next doctors appointment,” Smith wrote.
“And about a month and a half after I’m able to start running, they say I’ll be able to jump again,” she added.”
It’s welcomed news as Smith has tried her best to properly balance out a quick-as-possible recovery, and remain vigilant to not rush herself, ultimately doing more detriment to her body.
“Everybody’s always telling me not to move too fast, but only move as much as I think I can move,” she said. “My teammates try to keep me out of the mix and telling me not to come back too quickly. And it’s hard because, like I said, I really want to be out there doing what they’re doing. But I’m moving rapidly and my recovery is growing, and I think I’m gonna be a lot better of a player when all this is done.”