East Coast Forward Quickly Adjusting To Life Back Home
November 26 2016
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The last few years have been a whirlwind for Jai Smith. The class of 2021 forward has traveled back and forth between North Carolina and New York, growing more than a half-foot to nearly 6-foot-7 in that time, and quickly becoming one of the nation’s most touted youth basketball players in the process.
ThePrepInsiders.com recently caught up with Smith, his mother Samone Flint, and trainer Derek Jackson to get an update on the talented prospect’s development, his plans for the upcoming school season, as well as approaching travel circuit season…
It’s time to update our player card for Jai Smith.
However, the past two years in The Tar Heel State have been quite productive for Smith, as he excelled in the classroom at Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary, North Carolina, and was a standout on the court for the Carolina Elite and Carolina Wolves programs.
Smith’s physical stature and consistent performances in helping lead Carolina Elite to the 2015 6th Grade AAU National Championship helped him gain attention among his class of 2021 peers across the country. He made the move with his coaching staff and teammates to the Carolina Wolves organization in 2016 where he became one of the top players in the National Youth Basketball League (NYBL), further cementing his status as one of the nation’s top youth talents.
After the school year ended, Smith moved back to his home state of New York, settling in Syracuse, and closer to family in Elmira, a small town near the Pennsylvania-New York border. When asked about her son’s recent basketball development, Smith’s mother, Samone Flint, said she’s more concerned that her son is performing well in the classroom.
“I don’t know much about basketball. I support [Jai] in everything but it’s most important to me that he is well-rounded”, Samone Flint told ThePrepInsiders.com. “I want Jai to be a great student. He knows that if the [classroom] work isn’t getting done, he won’t be out there [playing basketball].”
Flint entrusts her son’s on-court development to long-time friend Derek Jackson. Jackson, a former Boston College guard, played for the Eagles during the 1991-1993 seasons. Ironically, Jackson has ties to the Carolinas as well, having played at Boston College under then-assistant coach and current ESPN analyst Paul Biancardi and then finishing his career at Florida Atlantic under Kevin Billerman, a two-time captain at Duke University and now current head coach at NCISAA 3-A member Ravenscroft School.
“Jai is special; there’s no doubt,” said Jackson. “He has all the size and athleticism that he needs and now we’re working to put all of the other pieces into place.”
Jackson understands the potential in Smith, describing him as a very fluid athlete with the mindset of a perimeter player, and the former Division I standout is working to craft the gangly forward into a versatile threat from the wing as well as the post. According to Jackson, at a recent physical examination, Smith measured at just over 6-foot-6 and weighed more than 180 pounds.
The trainer and protégé have immediate objectives to improve Smith’s ball-handling abilities as well as working to increase the arc on his jumper. The more long-term goals are centered around developing skills that will translate for Smith to put to use both as a big man and as a perimeter player.
Jai Smith is currently attending Bishop Ludden School in Syracuse, New York where as an eighth grader he’ll have the opportunity to see action in varsity practices and games. He’s also expected to play his grade level as well as ‘playing up’ for a few events next spring as the travel circuit gets going once again. For now, Smith is using his time on the court to focus on the school season, and is dedicated to improving under the tutelage of Jackson with the support of his entire family.