All Middle Georgia: Smith’s hard work pays off on basketball court

Rashard Smith clutched the trophy close to his chest.

The Dublin senior eventually lessened the grip, holding the trophy in his right hand and the game ball in his left. Minutes after leading Dublin to its second basketball championship in four years, Smith wasn’t about to let the trophy escape his sight.

Even when a teammate asked to hold it while Smith was conducting a media interview, the point guard kept his eyes focused on the trophy. After about a minute away from the trophy, Smith asked for it back.

“All right, that’s enough,” he said to a younger teammate.

Smith, The Telegraph’s GHSA boys basketball player of the year, wasn’t trying to be stingy. But in those early moments following the championship game win over Blessed Trinity, that trophy was Smith’s most tangible prize for three years of hard work.

Smith won his third state championship ring that day, but this was the first time he was the key contributor on the team. It also helped fulfill a winning tradition in his family, last visited when cousin Ben Smith led the Irish to the state championship 2006 while Rashard Smith was a freshman.

“I earned this one,” Smith said in March. “I was on that team as a freshman, and I started for our state championship football team. But this was the first time I was the go-to guy. This was my team, along with the other seniors.”

Just like his cousin, Smith had a penchant for coming up huge in important games. He was the third or fourth scoring option in many games, but he had an uncanny ability to take over when needed. He made a few baskets to jumpstart the Irish in their championship game victory. After scoring some baskets early, Smith settled into his role as a distributor. He finished the championship game with a double-double.

“He does as good a job as any player around at getting everyone on his team involved in the game,” former Northeast head coach Dartez Talbott said. “He penetrates and finds his shooters better than most can.”

Under Smith’s watch, Dublin lost only once in 2008-09. The defeat came at a holiday tournament in Florida to GHSA Class AAAAA Collins Hill.

“We almost got our undefeated season,” Smith said.

Smith was named the Georgia Sports Writers Association AA Player of the Year following the championship run. But as good as he was on the court, Smith might be better on the gridiron.

He signed a football scholarship with N.C. State in February after finishing his senior season with 10 interceptions as a defensive back. He accomplished the same feat as a junior, and was named the GSWA AA defensive player of the year as a junior and a senior.

“I love football, but I’m going to miss basketball,” Smith said. “But who knows. The coaches at N.C. State might let me play basketball. Maybe I have a little more in me.”