By MARC RAIMONDI
If Christ the King’s season was on the line, if the Royals would have gone home if they lost, there was nothing that would have kept Bria Smith off the court.
“I would play no matter what,” the McDonald’s All-American said. “I would play on my two hands if I had to.”
None of those things, though, were true Feb. 23 in Christ the King’s 45-33 loss to Nazareth in a CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I girls’ basketball first-place tiebreaker at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows. Both teams will live to see another day and the Virginia-bound Smith, who says she has had knee troubles since eighth-grade, was following her doctor’s and Coach Bob Mackey’s advice to sit until at least the playoffs.
“Bria’s fine,” Mackey said. “She was shooting in the gym before. That’s my decision. If I’m the one that’s gonna take the loss, then I’ll take the loss. It’s a team game; it’s not an individual sport. It’s my decision. She’ll be ready to go next week.”
The game did have some significance. Not only did it decide which team would get the league’s top seed in the CHSAA Class AA state tournament, but Christ the King’s 27-year run atop Brooklyn/Queens in the regular season was at stake.
Mackey was willing to put that on the line since Smith has not practiced since reinjuring her balky left knee on Valentine’s Day against Bishop Loughlin. The injury started up in the second game against Nazareth Feb. 5 and she irritated it again vs. Mary Louis a week later. Smith has not played since that Loughlin game; this was the third game she has sat out.
“All streaks snap, even Wooden’s streak snapped,” Mackey said of the UCLA record run. “You can ask [UConn women’s Coach] Geno [Auriemma]. Those things happen. Sooner or later somebody is going to break every streak. That’s OK. Just come back and start another one. That’s all.”
Smith’s not being in the game seemed to peeve rival Nazareth, which decided to hold out freshman star Bianca Cuevas “so it’s even,” according to Lady Kingsmen Coach Apache Paschall, who was suspended for the game by his school for breaking a media gag order about this pending league investigation. Smith’s absence didn’t affect the Naz players, though.
“We still wanted to take their heads off,” Lady Kingsmen junior Darius Faulk said. “We wanted her to play.”
The city’s best player, and one of the best in the country, said she hated sitting there watching between Assistant Coaches Jill Cook and Dom Cecala. But she wasn’t going to fight Mackey and her parents too hard.
“It was really hard, actually,” Smith said. “I knew that we could have beat this team without me still.”
She and Christ the King could get two more chances against Naz: the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens tournament final and the CHSAA Class AA state final. The Royals are hoping it’s with her and not without.