By Joseph Staszewski
Bria Smith’s best performance at the Nike Tournament of Champions had the worst of starts. The Christ the King star guard picked up two fouls in the game’s first 40 seconds and spent the rest of the first quarter on the sidelines against Long Beach Poly (Calif.), ranked fifth in the country by USA Today.
“I knew my teammates could handle it,” Smith said. “But it was pretty tough sitting there watching the game from the bench. Once I got it in, I was fine again.”
She was better than that.
Smith went on to score 18 points and grab 12 rebounds in the Dec. 19 game, playing in foul trouble. She, along with Penn State-bound forward Ariel Edwards, stepped up down the stretch. Smith had a three-point play late that cut the Jackrabbits’ lead to three, but the Royals ultimately fell 58-54 to a team that walloped defending New York State Federation Class AA champion St. Michael Academy early this season.
“She spent the whole first quarter on the bench and still played a great game,” Christ the King Coach Bob Mackey said. “It would have been greater if she was able to play those first six, seven minutes. That would have been outstanding.”
That is exactly what Smith was in the first three games of the tournament, before running out of gas like the rest of her team in a disappointing loss to Mount Lebanon (Pa.) in the finale Dec. 22. She averaged 19 points per game and had 23 and 26 points, respectively, in wins over Dillard (Fla.) Dec. 18 and Riverdale-Baptist (Ga.) Dec. 21 as CK finished 2-2 and in sixth place in the Joe Smith Bracket in Phoenix, Ariz.
“I thought she really took it up a notch,” Mackey said. “The challenge is to really come out and step up and play at the national level and I think she did that.”
He believes the way Smith played in the tournament needs to continue to become the norm and could just be an opening act for what could be a tremendous season.
“It’s like an actress putting on a great performance,” Mackey said. “You’ve put on a great performance, all right, now if can you put several of those performances together and can you build on that. I think she can.”
Smith is considered one of the top juniors in the country and has had to make the switch to point guard this season, though she said she is more comfortable slashing from the wing. She can get to the rim at will at times, is great in the passing lanes and is starting to find her jump shot. Mackey said she had been aiming the ball early. She scored just four points, struggling mightily from the field, as the Royals were upset by Bishop Ford Dec. 7.
“If it’s wide open, I aim it,” Smith said. “If I just take my natural shot, it usually goes in.”
Foul trouble, though, has been a constant issue for her this season. She fouled out early in the fourth quarter against Bishop Ford and seemingly played the entire Tournament of Champions with four fouls. It’s becoming so normal that Smith said she is getting used to it, but admits to making dumb decisions and being over-aggressive. She believes she is learning to be smarter.
“She feels she can just take the ball from pretty much anybody,” Mackey said.
Smith was pleased with her and the team’s performance, but believed it had the potential to be even better. If anything, it prepared her and the Royals for the challenges awaiting them back home in what appears to be a balanced CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens division.
“Playing against the best competition out there gets us ready for the rest of the season,” Smith said. “We want to be the champions of New York [state]. If we play the best teams, it just gets us ready.”
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