Jacob Smith, Howard Payne University, high school basketball, Katy, Texas, hoops, AAU, Shooting Stars

Smith overcomes to continue basketball career at Howard Payne

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 8/22/19

Over a high school career that spanned three schools, where his game was simultaneously praised, criticized and scoffed at, Jacob Smith had one constant.

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Jacob Smith, Howard Payne University, high school basketball, Katy, Texas, hoops, AAU, Shooting Stars

Smith overcomes to continue basketball career at Howard Payne

Posted

Over a high school career that spanned three schools, where his game was simultaneously praised, criticized and scoffed at, Jacob Smith had one constant.

It was a program and coach that stayed true to a mercurial talent that was one of the top 20 players in the state coming out of Morton Ranch Junior High. That program was the Shooting Stars, Smith’s AAU team since the fifth grade. That coach was Stephon Leary, founder and coach of the Stars who makes a purpose out of developing young players in the Katy area.

“The Shooting Stars is always in my blood. They treated me like family, ever since I was little,” Smith said. “They showed me the way, showed me how to be off the court as much as on.”

Smith, a Chicago native who has called Katy home the last 10 years, said those words on August 3 after signing to continue his basketball career at Howard Payne University. Holding back tears, the 5-foot-9, 160-pounder spoke of a long, exhaustive, often-times frustrating journey. A road that started with his first two high school seasons at Morton Ranch High and through a junior year at The Village School and, finally, a senior season ProVision Academy, where he averaged 18 points and eight assists per game last year as an all-state selection.

“Coach Leary, honestly, he’s like a grandfather to me,” Smith said. “He’s the backbone for me and my family. It was him who kept me positive through all the adversity that was hitting me. All the problems that kept coming, he told me to keep my head up and let my game do the talking. That’s what I did. Always kept a positive attitude, kept the ball rolling. It put me in a great position today.”

Smith’s story is similar to that of many that come through the Shooting Stars.

Leary started the program in 2011 with three teams, no seniors. The Stars had their first graduating class in 2015.

Since then, Leary said he has had a double-digit amount of kids each year sign on to play at the next level, boys and girls. In 2019, the Stars have had 12 players sign to play college basketball, including notable Katy-area talents like Cinco Ranch’s Jaron Presley (St. Mary’s University) and Tompkins’ Murray Grant (Prairie View A&M).

Two Stars are playing pro basketball: Jonathan Mulmore (Brazil) and Drew Lasker (Britain).

The Stars are based out of Katy. They rent out Katy ISD schools in the spring to work out of. In the summer, they practice and train at Trinity Faith Church or The British International School.

“We have a vision to try and build an organization where kids can come and grow as individuals, grow in their character and be able to attain and reach their goals, regardless of what others might say they can’t do,” Leary said.

Smith is an original of the program. He and Torrence Hayes (Oklahoma Baptist) are the last two Stars who started with the program in junior high. Every Star that started with the program in junior high has signed on to play at the next level.

In Smith, Leary saw a precocious kid and a promising basketball talent. Smith may be undersized for a combo guard, but he is a natural scorer with impressive quickness.

“We couldn’t keep this kid off the floor when he first got here,” Leary said. “‘How many times do I have to tell you to get off the floor?’ ‘Get off the floor. Get off the floor.’ So much so that we had to ban him from coming to the gym because he would not stay off the floor. Long story short, Jacob started to show he could actually be on the floor.”

Leary jokes about the time when he first put Smith into a game. Smith was in the fifth grade and given a chance to play on the seventh-grade team because players were needed.

“His first layup, he bricked it,” Leary said. “He stole the ball, and he was going so fast he pinged the ball right off the backboard. No shot at making it. That’s where it all began for Jacob, and through a lot of passion, commitment and hard work, he’s had a lot of different opportunities and he just kept grinding and kept working.”

Smith admits he had a selfish attitude early on. He bought into his own hype. That made it hard for people to be around him.

“It got to my head, and Coach Leary showed me that nobody would want to play with me or be around me if I had that attitude,” Smith said. “He showed me to not end up that route. Now I’m more mature. I’m humbled. Everything he said turned out to be true.”

Immaturity, Leary agreed, was something Smith had to overcome if he wished to try to make a career out of the game.

“Being the third of three boys, he’s the one who’s got a lot to prove,” Leary said. “At the same time, he was the baby, so people questioned his toughness or whatever. All of those comments had to motivate him. He had to mature, keep his mouth shut, do the right thing, commit to school and the work that needs to be done. I personally believe he’s one of the best point guards in the city. That’s just the belief I instilled in him—that he can be the best he can be no matter who steps up in front of him.”

Smith has that trust in himself these days. It’s clear as day. But he’s also humble, appreciative of the family, coaches and friends who’ve been with him every step of the way.

“The most important thing for him is he grew up,” Leary said. “He’s no longer the kid you have to kick off the floor. He’s kicking other people off the floor now. Now he’s ready for college and I’m excited for him.”

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