Smith So Strong

04/07/2011 10:33

Lady Titans’ forward makes it through life challenges to the hardwood.

Alan K. Fox - Exclusive

As we watch her on the court and especially in the paint we tend to see an athlete that must have put everything she had into becoming such a successful player.

Truth is growing up in Springfield she had a love for many different things other than basketball, including helping her father work on dirt bikes after her motocross races for hours.

Some may say that it seems to be a little far fetched that a girl growing up would be into things like that, but Ashley Smith really looked up to her father and wanted to do anything and everything that he did.

She would also spend countless hours out on the lake with the two of them on the boat enjoying the water.

“I loved going out on the lake with my dad from the minute he got off work until the sun went down,” she said.

Smith, who is a natural born athlete, loved playing all sports as a kid, but mostly had a love for basketball.

Some of the other sports she was into were volleyball, soccer and softball.

Smith first started to play basketball while she was in the first grade and has not let up since.

“I have been playing basketball since I was in first grade, once I started I could never stop. I would get home from practice and play in my driveway with my dad,” she said.

Her inspirations to play came from watching her father and grandfather while she was young, and her favorite player, Michael Jordan.

She began to have success on the hardwood at a young age and was part of an AAU team that had won the State Championship three times and had also went to the Nationals twice by the time she had reached the eighth grade.

In eighth grade, life began to change for Smith. It proved to be one of the most difficult times in her life, due to her parents getting a divorce.

This is a challenge that many children come to encounter while growing up, but she was able to use it as motivation on the court.

She credits her two of her high school coaches, Paul Brothers and Lance Haas, for helping her make it through the tough times.

“They helped me so much as a person and basketball player I can’t even describe it,” she said. “Especially during my rough time while my parents were going through the divorce, they really took me in and challenged me to make me who I am today.”

While she attended Willamette High School those coaches helped Ashley lead the Wolverines to two state championships in her four years while on the team.

Both Brothers and Hass are proud to be a part of helping Smith through such a tough time in her life and helping her grow as a person and an athlete.

She had to overcome a lot of adversity in her younger years here at Willamette High School, and I really feel that she learned valuable life lessons from playing basketball here at Willamette,” Hass said. “She learned to handle outside distractions and how to work hard both on and off the floor.  I believe that these skills she learned on the court helped her with our mentoring to overcome her parents’ divorce.” 

“AJ is one of my all-time favorite kids,” Brothers said.

“Her parents decided to divorce in the summer before her freshman year at Willamette. She came in confused, scared, and vulnerable,” Brothers continued. “I could relate pretty well to her situation as my ex-wife and I were getting a divorce when my two boys were 13 and 14, and that is a critical time in most teenager’s life as they transition from middle school to high school, which in itself is an adjustment. We had many, many talks trying to get her through that.”

Hass recalls Smith’s growth as a basketball player while in high school.

She came to us as a 9th grader and played varsity basketball for us, and her freshman year was a real learning experience. She had to learn to take constant criticism of her basketball game and learn how to work hard every day,” Hass said.  “Her sophomore year her mental attitude about criticism from me about her game became better and she started listening to the message that was being sent not just the way it was being presented.  Her work ethic really picked up and she started to grow as an athlete.  She helped us win the State Title that year, and her senior year she took all she had learned from the last 3 years and put it all together.  She was a great leader, with great work ethic and a great passion for the game and embraced our team as her family.”

Smith was also was awarded as Oregon School Activities Association 5A Co-Player of the year, while leading her team to a 27-0 record during the 2008-09 season.

She was also awarded with multiple honors and league championships as a Wolverine.

After completing her high school career she had a big decision to make and that was were she would be taking her talents on the court.

She was recruited by three main schools, which included Chico State, Western Washington and Idaho State.

So Smith packed her bags and headed to Pocatello, Idaho so that she could play for the Bengals. Her career as a Bengal was short lived though, because she chose to head back home to Eugene.

After returning home she was unsure of what she wanted to do in life, and then LCC’s women’s basketball coach Greg Sheley approached her about playing for the Lady Titans.

“I have known him and seen him coaching for about 10 years and he was always extremely nice and good at what he was doing,” she said. “. I decided on there because he was the coach, I knew the girls and I knew that they are always a successful team.”

Sheley admitted that he had seen the talent since she was a youngster and believes that it has helped her to this day.

I have known AJ since she was around 11 years old when she would attend our summer basketball camps,” Sheley said.  “She was a great competitor then and has used that drive to make herself into the great player she is today.”

Sheley also said that her talents aren’t the only thing that makes Smith great, stating that she is a great person to be around on and off the court.

While playing for the Lady Titans she led the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges in scoring (23.5 points per game) and second in rebounding (11 rebounds per game) and helped lead the team to a fourth place finish in the playoffs.

She also recorded the second best rebounding game in school history with 24 in a game.

Now that the season is over Smith once again has a decision to make on where she will continue her education and her skills on the court.

When asked about what schools she had heard from she said that there was many to choose from.

“This year there are too many to mention… but the biggest are Oregon State and Oregon.”

Even with all of her individual successes she stays humble and says that the most memorable moment as a Lady Titan was when the team lost its first home game in nine years.

Now all Titans fans sit and wait to see where she will play next, and wish her nothing but success.

“I have followed Ashley play since her years at Willamette High School, and I cannot wait to wait to see her play some more at the next level,” one fan said after a game at Lane Coliseum.