Daily Journal Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year Anisah Smith led the powerhouse Scots to a 24-4 overall record and a trip to the Central Coast Section quarterfinals. The senior averaged 23.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 4.2 steals per game.
They say success breeds success. Carlmont’s Anisah Smith was on top of her game from the season’s opening tip and when it finally came to an end in the quarterfinal round of the Central Coast Section tournament, Smith had helped transform a team of underachievers last season into a division-championship team in 2014.
“We probably would have been a middle-of-the-pack team (without Smith),” said Dan Mori, Carlmont’s first-year girls’ basketball coach. “We did have a lot of veterans returning, but Anisah was really our go-to player in terms of scoring and she did a good job of defending and rebounding for her size.”
Smith ended the season averaging 23.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 4.2 steals per game and the Scots needed every single stat to capture the Peninsula Athletic League South Division title with an 11-1 record and an overall mark of 24-4.
Mori said a change in attitude among the team helped create the environment to turn around a 2-10 and 8-16 mark in 2013.
Smith had a big hand in the transformation. Because of her season-long, consistent contributions, Smith is the Daily Journal’s Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
Smith said she wanted to go out with a bang her senior season, working hard in the offseason to prepare. When she erupted in the season opener, both Smith, Mori and the Scots knew they were in for something special.
“I knew it was senior year and I wanted to come out with no regrets and play every game like it was my last,” Smith said. “Very first game, we came out in the Fremont tournament and I dropped 30-something. I knew [I could have a really good season] at the start of the season. I wanted to have a great game every game.
“But I didn’t think I would play that good that consistently.”
After starting the season with a bang, she found the going much tougher toward the end of the season as the opposition focused on stopping Smith.
“I don’t think she wore down as much as the other team started sending two, and sometimes three, defenders at her,” Mori said. “In some of the late-season games, especially against PAL teams, teams had seen her and knew her (and knew how to defend her).”
In previous years, Smith said she might have gotten frustrated with such intense focus on her. But a mental shift in her attitude helped make those situations more tolerable.
“This year, I looked at it differently,” Smith said. “This year, (the attitude was opposing teams) respect my game, so I wanted to work even harder.”
Mori said he talked with Smith early in the season, explaining to her how the opposition would react to her ability to fill up the stat sheet. With Smith expecting it, Mori believe she was better able to deal with it.
“She knew and was kind of expecting the focus of the other teams. She did take it as a challenge,” Mori said. “I think she did a great job rising to that challenge. As the leader of the team, I thought she was exemplary in that regard.”
Mori knew he had something special on his hands during the first practice. As much as he enjoyed her basketball skills, he needed her to be more than just a player — he needed a leader for the team. He asked and Smith delivered.
“I think she really grew as a young lady as far as her leadership. I asked her to do that. She embraced that. I think that’s something I was really proud of,” Mori said. “She was our only senior. Her leadership on and off the court was really, really good.”
Part of being a leader is making those around you better. So just because she could go for 20 points every game, she knew she would need help from her teammates to take some of the pressure off her. That meant getting them involved and showing confidence in them.
It was a work in progress, but both Mori and Smith believe that without that kind of growth from the rest of the team, they would go nowhere.
“Sometimes they would pass the ball and watch to see what I was going to do. It came up in practice quite a few times, ‘Just don’t stand there, cut to the basket, look for your shot,’” Smith said. “But the trust did build as the season went along. I saw a greater amount of confidence from the girls (as the season progressed).”
Said Mori: “She knew if teams were focused on her, it would free up other players. The other players needed to have confidence and not just defer to Anisah. She was a willing passer if other players were open. As they (gained more confidence), Anisah gained more confidence (in them) and made her more willing to keep them involved with the offensive flow.
“She rose to the challenge whenever it was in front of her and she put her teammates in a position to be successful at well.”
But being the team’s go-to players meant at certain times Smith having to look at getting hers.
“I knew there were certain times during the game I knew I had to take over and that takes being a little selfish,” Smith said. “When you love the game as much as I do, I was ready to go at all times.”
Now, Smith is looking to continue her playing career at the Division I level in college. She is currently being recruited as a walk-on at both Tennessee State and University of Arizona. Wherever Smith plays, Mori believes she has the skill to succeed.
“She is a dynamic player. She can score in multiple fashions, she understands the game well, she can go left or right. She has a passion for the game as well as the athletic ability,” Mori said. “She has two great opportunities (to play at the next level). … I definitely think she has the ability.”