USA U18 Forward NaLyssa Smith Continues to Live Up to Expectations
College basketball recruiting websites have been referring to NaLyssa Smith as a potential superstar since she was 14 years old — maybe even younger.
Some of it might have seemed like hyperbole at times, but over the past year Smith has been working to make sure all those predictions come true. She is now in the summer before her freshman year at Baylor University, and her standout play as of late has earned her an opportunity to represent her country for the first time as a member of the 2018 USA Basketball U18 National Team.
Smith, a 6-foot-3 forward from Converse, Texas, is fresh off a senior year of high school in which she scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds per game helping her East Central team to a deep run in the state playoffs. She also earned a spot on the McDonald’s All-American Team as the cherry on top of numerous other awards.
But the most significant basketball moment for her — outside of LeBron James recently announcing he was joining her favorite NBA team — came in late May. With her father at her side, she was able to call home from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to tell her mom she had achieved her dream of earning a spot on the national team for her age group.
“My parents are excited, because they know how much I worked for it and how much I used to talk about USA Basketball,” Smith said.
This wasn’t the first time Smith participated in a USA Basketball camp. She was invited to the 2016 USA U17 Trials but went home disappointed after not making the team. She said she learned from the experience and was better prepared for her opportunity this year.
“I feel like the first time I didn’t really know what to expect,” Smith said. “So, I went in there and did just like what I knew that I could do. I didn’t really like to switch it up. I know the first time when I went, you’re not supposed to like to shoot a lot. They want to see different things that you do. This time I made sure I posted up some, and I distributed the ball some, and I also shot and stayed in my comfort zone a little bit. I just did things I knew they would want to see.”
Smith will return to Colorado Springs for training camp with the U18 team on July 20 before departing for Mexico City, where she hopes to help the team win the 2018 FIBA U18 Americas Championship. The top four teams in the tournament will earn an invitation to the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup.
Though she grew up only a few hundred miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, this will be her first official trip out of the country. Smith said she is looking forward to spending time in Mexico City and experiencing the culture and competition.
“It’s going to be a fun experience going out there and seeing how people live and different lifestyles and stuff like that,” she said.
Smith will have a familiar face as a travel partner. Point guard Desiree Caldwell and Smith played on the same AAU team in Texas from sixth grade through their junior year of high school.
“She is super goofy, and super funny and super selfless,” Caldwell said. “She’s so talented and you would kind of expect a player of that caliber to be just worried about themselves, but NaLyssa is the type of person that would always talk to me during games and get others involved.”
Smith said her father Rodney Smith, mother Nikki Smith and brother Rodney Jr. have each played a significant role in helping her get to where she is now. Her dad, a former professional basketball player overseas, has worked with her since she was young. He taught her post moves, ball-handling and served as the ball return as she shot hundreds of free throws and perimeter shots.
She’s spreading her wings a bit now, but she does so wanting to make sure the things she does make her family proud.
“I’m really just staying focused and making sure I’m focused on the right things, especially at college,” Smith said. “Just making sure that I’m also working in the classroom. I’m making sure the things that need to be handled are handled. I’m also working on basketball, because I know at the college level I’m going to have to compete and get stronger and faster.”