Smithville coach Brian McCollum had a big decision to make in his first year as the Lady Noles’ head coach five seasons ago – to bring up a promising eighth-grader or let her continue to develop her game on the junior high team.

McCollum brought up then eighth-grader Orlandria Smith and has since seen her grow into one of Smithville’s most prolific scorers on the hardwood, being the Lady Noles’ leading scorer every season since and now going into her senior year.

“Orlandria has went from being just a pure athlete to understanding the game more. Obviously she’s one of the best pure athletes in the state,” McCollum said. “Then as her progression went along, she learned how to score. Now I feel like she’s learning how to run offense and get the entire team involved. I think that’s going to make us better as an entire team.”

Smith called her eighth-grade season her most mentally challenging, coming up and taking on a leading scoring role amidst a team full of upperclassmen.

“Coming up, I was small and everybody else was much bigger and knew more, but then again, I would say from coach’s preference I was still on the same level game wise,” she said. “I was a quick learner, ready to get out there and play, and then I had to learn about a lot of adversity, especially towards my own teammates because some of them didn’t like me because I was younger and taking their positions.”

Smith went from averaging 6.4 points a game as an eighth-grader to 17.2 points as a sophomore. She averaged 16.5 points a game last season.

“Being that go-to person, it’s hard. Everyone relies on you, and it’s like a weight on your shoulders,” Smith said. “Once you get to where this is how it is and you have to deal with it, you start gaining more vision of the court, seeing people, making plays and getting them to make plays so you can have plays.”

McCollum said he’s seen Smith evolve her offensive game in all levels, using just her athleticism early in her career before refining her game over the last few seasons.

“It used to be head down, go to the goal, and she’s developed with her three-point shooting and mid-range pull-up game both being a lot better. I believe when she was in eighth grade, she shot about 20 percent from the free-throw line, and now she’s about a 60-70 percent free-throw shooter,” McCollum said. “As much as she goes to the free-throw line, she has to make them. I say this all the time, I think she’s been playing so long that she gets fouled so much that the local officiating gets foul fatigue with her. She draws so much contact, and she’s such a force going to the goal that sometimes I tell her she has to finish.”

One area Smith has been focusing on is her defense and limiting foul trouble.

She fouled out of five games as a junior and had four fouls in nine others.

“My defense is what I’m working on at the moment. I love offense, and I get it. I need to work on my left hand a lot, but defensive wise, I’m so quick at jumping for the ball,”Smith said. “I want the ball so bad, but sometimes you have to back off because you have too many fouls and just let my teammates help me and have my back. I think I need to work on trusting my teammates and know for a fact that they have this and can do it.”

McCollum said keeping her on the floor is one of their biggest priorities as a team, and he’s seen improvement in that area as well during Smithville’s summer games.

“If she can stay on the floor with us, she’s been averaging what she has been and that’s with having to sit out about a quarter in foul trouble a lot,” McCollum said. “I think she’s really improved on that. She knows what she can do now because she has over 100 games of high school experience now.”

After crossing the 1,000-point threshold as a sophomore, Smith is just 78 points away from the 1,500 mark and hopes to hit 2,000 points.

Her bigger goal for the season is leading her team to a playoff run. The Lady Noles made the playoffs in her eighth-grade and freshmen seasons but have come short the last two years.

“My biggest goal is definitely to try to hit 2,000 career points. I didn’t realize I was so close until I hit my 1,000, and I couldn’t believe it. That wasn’t even a goal I was aiming for at all,” she said. “My goals are also to improve every aspect of my game like my leadership and shooting and dribbling. Making the playoffs is important, and it’s not just making playoffs. We’re Smithville, and we want to make something for our name, so let’s go to playoffs and win a game.”

Smith’s end goal is playing college basketball, and the interest has already started coming in, despite no official offers yet.

“We have talked to a lot of people including ICC and Northeast. Coach McCollum sent me a list of people like Central Arkansas, Mississippi College and they all love me. They have talked to me,” she said. “People have given me options, and I like all these odds. It’s hard to figure out which one I really want to go to because I’m very indecisive. I’m pretty sure around the middle of next school year I will know exactly what I want to do.”

After competing in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star game back in March, Smith has spent her summer playing AAU basketball, and McCollum said he’s seen a change in her with playing with and against higher competition.

“To get on a team where every girl is the same level as her, it’s made her better,” he said. “I saw her do that down at the all-star game where she just took over the game, and I think at the next level, she’s just going to be amazing when someone gives her the opportunity, and those will come.”

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