When 19-year-old Mike Smith decided to leave his small town in Missouri and join the ETSU basketball team, he also made a tough choice about his life. Playing both football and basketball throughout his high school career, the time had come for him to decide which path he would take.
Smith made his choice once he realized that basketball defined who he was. While extremely talented on the football field, it was basketball that people wanted to see him play.
"Playing basketball over football was a tough decision," said Smith, a 6-6 freshman guard from Vandalia, Mo. "It was one of the toughest things I have done in my lifetime. Loving both of these sports made it difficult, but everyone always wanted to see me go play basketball somewhere.
"To this day I still miss the game of football. It has played a major role in my life and helped me tremendously. Football has made me ready for the physical play of basketball. It has made me tough throughout my years of playing."
He also explains that playing the quarterback position in high school allowed him to be a leader on and off the field.
"I was able to take that over to basketball and used some of the same tactics I used on the field onto the basketball court," he said.
Attending school in his small hometown, Smith managed his sporting commitments and academics with ease. He says that time management skills allowed him to keep up with everything. Keeping himself focused must not have been an easy task while receiving so much attention for his sporting achievements. Focus is something that he had to maintain however, particularly with the goal of receiving an NCAA Division 1 basketball scholarship.
"Getting a scholarship to play college basketball was a big issue in my life. This opportunity gives me the chance to get my education while playing at a collegiate level of basketball," Smith said. "Deciding on ETSU was a major decision in my life which came with many different decisions I had to make, and being recruited by many different colleges made it tough for me to decide which one I wanted to attend."
When asked to describe the transition from a small town to ETSU Smith said it was not too different. His hometown lies between St. Louis, Mo., and Columbia, Mo., which gave him the chance to see bigger cities. What he did notice living in a smaller area was that people recognized him wherever he went because of his talent on both the court and the field. "Staying on the winning side of things in these sports also let people know who I was," he said.
With his high scoring record and impressive stats, it will not be long before the freshman makes a name for himself at ETSU.
Smith ranks as one Missouri's most prolific scorers ever, netting a total of 2,627 points in his career and ranking 14th all-time in MSHSAA history. He helped his high school to four-straight district titles, three sectional appearances and one state championship. In his four-year career, Van-Far enjoyed four 20-win seasons for an overall 94-25 record. As a senior, Smith scored 777 points (26.8 ppg), grabbed 414 rebounds (14.2 rpg), dished out 163 assists (5.6 apg) and collected 100 steals (3.45 spg). He earned all-state honors in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and was one of three finalists for Mr. Show Me Basketball.
Smith is not the only one in his family with athletic genes. His sister graduated high school with 1,000 points in basketball and played in college before injury forced her to give up the sport. He also has an older brother who is currently playing basketball at Hannibal Lagrange College. "He has taught me a lot about the game itself," Smith said about his brother.
It seems that Smith will have a lot to offer the ETSU basketball program with his experience in two different sports. He is yet to even take his first shot, but his future looks bright and he is ready to make an impact on the college scene.
By SANDIE KNIGHT
ETSU Athletic Media Relations