Javonte Smart Works His Way Onto USA U16 Roster
Javonte Smart, a 6-foot-4 guard from Scotlandville Magnet High School in Louisiana, emerged Tuesday morning from a team meeting with an ear-to-ear grin. After six days of training camp that began with 29 players, Smart had just been named to the 12-member USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team.
“It feels really good,” Smart said. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to play for an (international) championship, and it means so much to me. My mom said that if I just came out and worked hard, that I probably would make it. And I tried so hard to make the team.”
After an initial session on the evening of May 28, Smart has been competing twice a day in practices against the nation’s best players who are 16 years old or younger.
“I felt like I played well,” Smart admitted, but he also said he has been challenged over the past week by USA head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa), who has won six-straight gold medals with USA Basketball, and USA assistant coaches Miles Simon (California Supreme AAU) and Sharman White (Miller Grove H.S., Ga.).
“I learned that success is hard,” said Smart. “You have to work so hard to make it to where you want to be. Coach (Showalter) and my teammates have helped me out, and he told us that if you work hard, you will get what you want.”
Because he has aspirations to be a basketball coach himself in the future, Smart said he is paying attention to the leadership around him.
“I’m a student of the game and a student of coaches, too,” Smart said. “I like the way the coaches get on us. If we mess up, they get on us. And for me, it picks me up. I know that they are trying to help me.
“I watch all the coaches, and I like how they get on their players and make them better.”
It is not just at USA Basketball where Smart expects the coaches to be tough, he experienced that as a freshman in 2014-15 with his state-championship winning, 33-4 team at Scotlandville Magnet.
“At first, when I first started going to practices, it was kind of hard because at my middle school we didn’t practice as long as we do in high school, so I had to fight through it and get mentally tough,” Smart explained. “And my coach told me, ‘You’re talented, but you can’t start if you don’t work hard.’ So, I had to work hard.”
Smart averaged 15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game as he went from rookie to MVP of the Louisiana 5A state championship game. He is shooting for nothing less as a sophomore.
“I have thought about it,” Smart said of his goals for next season. “I want to make it to the championship. But I can’t just say that and then we don’t work hard. I just want to work hard and then get there.”
The motivation for all of Smart’s hard work is his mother, Melinda, and his 14-year-old brother, Davyion.
“My mom, because I’m trying to make it to where she doesn’t have to work as hard as she does now and when we were younger,” said Smart when asked what inspires him. “And I have a little brother, and he really looks up to me. He thinks that I’m really good, so I have to keep going and strive for greatness.
“I want him to see that it’s not easy to be a great player. You have to work hard. Don’t ever stop and don’t ever give up.”
Smart plays the game for himself, too, of course, and it is a love that he found when he was just 4 years old.
“My family, they like football, and I was always was a basketball player. Every time I saw a basketball, I would whine for it. And I just like playing it.
“I love the competition, and I love just having fun on the court, laughing and joking. But, sometimes you have to be serious and I know when it’s serious.”
Smart and his teammates will be on a serious mission to defend the USA’s three-straight gold medals at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship when they travel to Bahia Blanca, Argentina, for the June 10-14 tournament.
It will be Smart’s first time leaving the United States and his first time playing for USA Basketball.
“I never thought I would get the opportunity to go outside the country. And for me to get a chance to go, I’m really happy about it. I’m so excited.
“I get to represent the USA. That’s all that matters. I get to fight for the chance to get a gold medal.”