With three weeks remaining in the regular season and the Lake Stevens boys basketball team’s postseason prospects dimming, senior guard/forward Jaxson Smith stood in front of his Vikings teammates after a team practice.
Smith declared that not only would Lake Stevens start winning games, the Vikings would make the playoffs and have the opportunity to realize their state tournament aspirations.
“He talked about dreams for us as a team and what we could still accomplish,” said Lake Stevens coach Mark Hein, who noted Smith is at his best when he’s playing with joy and swagger.
“Within the midst of his peers, when we were struggling, it’s something not everyone would have done. I’ll be forever grateful to Jaxson for that.”
Lake Stevens responded to Smith’s stirring speech, and finally healthy after missing the first 10 games of the season with an ankle injury, he helped lead the charge.
The Vikings won four of their final six regular-season games, capped by an Feb. 11 home victory over Kamiak on Senior Night that clinched a berth in the 4A Wes-King Bi-District Tournament.
Smith scored 28 points against the Knights in an 81-72 win, a performance that helped earn him The Herald’s Athlete of the Month award for February as voted by our readers.
We caught up with Smith last week to talk about the Vikings’ late-season turnaround, where he gets his swagger and how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting students.
In that Senior Night win against Kamiak, could you sense early on that it might be a big night for you?
Yeah, I got locked in early, almost as soon as the game started. I went to class that day locked in and was thinking about that game all day and all night. I just felt that we had to make the playoffs.
Sometimes the emotions of Senior Night can cause players to under-perform a little bit. How were you able to manage your emotions that night?
I tried not to think too much about it. I tried to treat it like a regular game but I still had to play with a sense of urgency. It was for a playoff spot, and I was injured for half the season. I had only had one other good game (a 20-point effort in an overtime win over Mariner on Jan. 31). I was like, ‘That can’t be the only one. I have to start turning up right now.’
How did you get injured and how were you able to bounce back from that?
I got injured the day of our (preseason) jamboree. After our walk-through, I was trying to get some extra shots up and I tried to dunk and landed on my ankle. I was injured until mid-January and it wasn’t until the Mariner game where I really felt like I was back. I hit six 3s that night and from there every game I was putting up numbers and improving. It was me getting back to my full potential.
When did you first start playing basketball and what made you fall in love with the sport?
I first got into basketball in first grade. I just loved putting the ball through the hoop. It was a good feeling for me. My dad plays basketball and it just runs through the family. I moved here in sixth grade from Long Beach, California, and I didn’t really start getting into select programs in Lake Stevens until seventh grade.
What do you feel are your best skills on the court?
Honestly, I feel like I’m equally good at shooting, passing and driving to the basket. I am a point guard, but I didn’t play point guard this year. I was one of the taller guards on our team at 6-foot-1, so I played anywhere from 1-4.
What is the craziest, most intense game you’ve ever played in for Lake Stevens?
Either the Kamiak game on Senior Night, the second Mariner game this year or the Glacier Peak game my junior year at home in our old gym. I went 7-for-7 from 3 and had 24 points.
Outside of basketball, what else in your life are you passionate about?
I’m just a ballplayer, man. It’s just basketball for me. I love to play the sport of basketball and I’m just going to try and go as far as I can with it.
How is the cancellation of school because of the coronavirus pandemic affecting you? What is the biggest concern of the average Lake Stevens High School senior right now?
Some people love it, some people hate it. I think most seniors hate it because they want to spend their senior year going to school with their friends and not sitting around the house every day. And some people love not going to school. I’m really just doing as much as I can to get my workouts in and stay in shape.
What are your plans for next year as far as basketball goes?
I’m willing to go to whatever college gives me a shot, whether that’s a community college or (NCAA) D-3 or D-2. Regardless, I just want to keep playing basketball. I’ve been talking to my coach about it, and we’re in the process of talking to colleges.
What would you like to study and possibly pursue as a career?
I’m not even really thinking about that. I just want to hoop. Whether that’s going overseas or some other kind of top-level basketball or whatever, I’m willing to put the work in. Basketball is just a lifestyle for me that I don’t want to give up.