PERRY -- With an abundance of talent and numerous Division I colleges showing interest in having him join their basketball program, Perry’s KJ Smith thought this summer would be about showcasing his ability and following his dream to the next level.
His health proved to have other ideas.
“He played with us one weekend this summer and he couldn’t even get the ball to the basket from behind the arc,” Perry head coach Brett Hardy said. “His mid-range jumper was really weak and that’s when they started running tests on him.”
Smith caught a bout of myositis pneumonia in January and further blood tests revealed that the pneumonia had led him to develop a case of juvenile dermatomyositis.
According to medical dictionaries, juvenile dermatomyositis is a condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack the blood vessels, which in turn causes inflammation. Resulting symptoms can include fatigue and rash.
Smith wasn’t allowed to partake in any physical activity until September, and he missed all of preseason football and part of the regular season.
“Not playing AAU (last) summer because of his illness kind of set him back a little bit,” Hardy said. “He was on a lot of people’s radar, but they didn’t see him on the AAU circuit, so we’ve just got to get him back out there. If he plays the way he’s capable of playing, I think it will take care of itself because he’s an excellent classroom student and he can kind of write his ticket there.”
Smith is a dynamic scorer. He averaged 18.6 points per game as a junior and shot 42 percent from the floor, including 39 percent from 3-point range. He was a first-team All-Middle Georgia selection and region co-player of the year in GHSA Region 2-AAAA.
“The one thing he possesses is that he can really shoot the basketball,” Hardy said. “When you have somebody out on the perimeter that can shoot it, it opens up the driving lanes and the feeding lanes for your bigs. The defense has to know where he is at all times.”
Chemistry should be a strength of this Panther team.
Smith is the leader of a veteran-laden squad that returns eight seniors and has Region 2-AAAA title expectations after a fourth-place finish in a tough region a year ago.
“The whole group is really pretty tight,” Hardy said. “They share the ball and they share their time with each other. (Smith’s) a good teammate. They all like him and they all get along with him.”
A solid senior season should once again have the college recruiters come calling. Smith’s consistent shooting stroke has returned, but his basketball conditioning will take some time.
“I just think he needs to play well this year,” Hardy said. “Since he’s come back, he’s shooting the ball really well again. His legs still aren’t what they were in the past, but we’ve just got to get him in shape.”