BALTIMORE – Sterling Smith’s most memorable moment of the season occurred on Sunday, Nov. 10 in front of family and friends. They watched as Smith dropped 21 points under the bright lights to help Coppin State beat Oregon State, 78-73, in one of the biggest wins in school history.
Since Smith exudes a laid-back California-cool personality off the court, he was pretty nonchalant following the victory. That demeanor is a stark contrast to the angry pit-bull like attitude and competitive fierceness he displays during games and the sheer intensity he shows in practice.
Last week, Smith displayed a different emotion, rage. He wasn’t excited about his career-high 24-point performance because it came in an overtime loss to Hampton, 79-76. Smith loves his family and winning.
While he looks forward to seeing his family and spending time with them, Smith is not exactly counting down the days to his next scheduled visit to the West Coast them during spring break. That’s because the Chino (Calif.) native hopes his plans include practicing for a NCAA tournament game that week.
With seven regular games remaining for Coppin State beginning Saturday at Maryland-Eastern Shore (4:00 p.m.), Smith knows there’s plenty of work to be done to help create a special memory that would surpass the thrill of the Oregon State game. Then his family can come see him play in an NCAA tournament game.
“It was cool to play in front of a lot of family members and friends when we played California and Oregon State,” Smith said. “I usually get home about twice a year. Once in the summer and during spring break. Hopefully, we’re playing during that week. I was able to spend time with my family when we went out to California and that was cool. The Oregon State game really boosted my confidence. To have such a big game against a big school really helped me out a lot.”
Smith’s game has been hot recently. He has developed into a rebounding machine. Only a sophomore, the 6 foot, 4 inch Smith has the potential to do some good things by the time he finishes his Coppin State career. Smith has grabbed 26 rebounds combined over the Eagles’ last three games, including nine each against Hampton and Delaware State.
Smith is the Eagles version of a Swiss-army knife because he’s third on the team in scoring (11.4 points per game), and rebounding (4.3 per game). Smith is third on the team in assists with 43 and blocked shots with six. He also leads the Eagles in steals with 29 and is second with 37 made 3-pointers. He does it all. Lately, he’s been focusing on rebounding because that’s what has been needed. For the season, Smith has scored in double figures 12 times and made at least one 3-pointer in 17 games.
“I always had a knack for the ball,” Smith said. “Coach (Ron “Fang” Mitchell) had a team meeting to let us know that rebounding wasn’t our strong suit, so he told us that we had to pick it up especially among the starters. I kind of took it upon myself to do that and get a lot of more boards. I feel like if I am not scoring that I can be more effective in other ways. I can always help the team out.”
His maturity, confidence and leadership have been a huge help to the Eagles this season. Smith is a smooth shooter when he’s in rhythm and has his legs under him. Smith prepped for a larger role this season by spending plenty of time in the gym with senior guard Andre Armstrong. They were like a new and improved version of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes from “White Men Can’t Jump” as they drove up and down the East Coast playing in as many pick-up games as possible.
Armstrong and Smith are a pair of lethal wing players that can shoot holes through any zone defense in the world when they’re locked and loaded.
“I really worked hard over the summer because I wanted to make a difference next year,” Smith said. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t have a Division I scholarship, so I went to Redemption Christian in New York. I was playing in a tournament in New Jersey and coach Fang saw me. When I came here to Coppin State for my visit, I saw that it was a family environment, everybody was welcoming and it was a nice campus.”
Smith is still a relative newcomer to hoops. Growing up the future secret service agent loved soccer. He eventually gave up his dreams of being the next Pele in sixth grade when his dad got him into basketball. Smith was a quick learner and developed a reputation in high school for lighting up scoreboards. He is thankful to be at Coppin State. More importantly, Smith is a member of the Dean’s List and will graduate next May with his degree in criminal justice.
“Graduating in three years mean a lot to me,” Smith said. “I would be the first one in my house to get a degree.”
That’s another special moment Smith will be able to share with his family.