NyRhique Smith pinpoints the moment he began to feel comfortable as a ninth-grader on the court surrounded by upperclassmen.
“After the first shot,” he smiled. “After that, I was fine.”
Smith, a 6-foot-3 combo guard at Monmouth Regional, just wrapped up his freshman season and established himself as a Garden State prospect to watch for the next three years.
Along with averaging slightly over 20 points per contest for the Falcons, who didn’t qualify for the NJSIAA state tournament but made major strides as a program compared to last year, Smith took the first steps of what promises to be a long, successful journey.
“Coming up to varsity is like playing up in the AAU circuit,” Smith said. “So that helped with my conditioning. I wasn’t nervous playing at the varsity level right away, but I had a couple butterflies at the start.”
Now, it’s full steam ahead. Generating interest from Florida, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Arizona, UNLV, Georgetown, Tulsa, Maryland, Wake Forest, Miami and North Carolina, Smith quietly made a big impact on his squad and showed he can blossom into a program-changer.
“It was frustrating, but like my dads says, I had to will my team to win,” said Smith, whose team went 6-13 after trudging through a difficult and forgettable 0-23 campaign last year. “They didn’t win a game last year. I had it in my head that I had to change it. We went 2-0 in the start and we grabbed the attention of others in the neighborhood. I’m a leader. I want everyone on my team to have the same amount of confidence as me, so as a freshman I worked on becoming more vocal.”
Those entrenched in the New Jersey high school basketball scene noticed the whopping impact of Gill St. Bernard’s freshman swingman Tyus Battle. Smith sees Battle as a friend, peer and eventual rival.
“He’s a good friend of mine, so we’ve had a lot of battles since we’ve been seven or eight years old,” Smith said. “We were at the Nike Skills U camp and we were the only freshmen there. We always talk about the next level. We look at Kyrie Irving, Kyle Anderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and from a competitive standpoint, we want to be there.”
Obviously before those dreams can become a reality, Smith acknowledges he needs to work on releasing his jump shot quicker and becoming more of a leader. Judging by his high-profile support system, though, he’ll have no shortage of advice and guidance.
“I’m a friend of (UCLA freshman standout) Kyle Anderson, and he tells me things I can work on,” Smith said. “Kyle’s been around basketball and his dad is my AAU coach (for the New Jersey Playaz). Marshon Brooks (of the Brooklyn Nets) is also a good friend. His mom and my dad went to high school together, so when he was little we would play basketball together in the summer. I’ve seen how I can carry myself and work harder. I can’t do anything wrong without him getting on me.
“It’s crazy. I look back to when I was younger and he was younger. He showed me that dreams come true.”
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter