By Rubin E. Grant
The first thing John David Smelser did three years ago when he learned of an opening for women’s basketball coaching in Vestavia Hills was watch a video of the Lady Rebels.
He didn’t know anything about the players on the team.
But after watching the video and seeing then-freshman Emma Smith perform, Smelser immediately applied for the job.
“I loved the way she played,” Smelser said. “I thought it would be fun to train a kid like that.”
Smelser’s admiration for Smith grew exponentially over the three seasons he coached her.
“She’s playing the game the right way,” Smelser said. “She plays hard and not only does she score, but she does all sorts of things for us. She keeps, she rebounds and she is relentless.
“She’s also brilliant outside of basketball. A lot of people just see her playing and that’s all they know, but she’s a smart kid and a great person in every way.
Smith was at his best on Monday morning in the Class 7A Northeast Regional Finals at Jacksonville State. She had 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals to lead the Lady Rebels (31-2) to a 49-43 win over Hewitt-Trussville (25-7). She was named the 7A Girls Regional MVP.
The 5-foot-7 senior guard recorded a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds to go along with five steals in the Lady Rebels’ 65-32 win over Huntsville last week in the regional semifinals.
She would like nothing better than to end her career playing in the state tournament after their last two seasons ended in narrow losses in the regional final.
“It would mean the world to me to represent Vestavia in the Final Four,” Smith said. “If we succeed, glory to God.”
During that season, Smith became the all-time leading scorer in Vestavia Hills basketball history. She had scored 1,959 points and had 1,024 rebounds in Monday’s regional final. She averaged 15.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.2 steals this season.
“This season has been all I could ask for in a senior year,” Smith said. “But it’s also a bit bittersweet because of the close relationships I have with my teammates and coaches and this is my last year.”
Smith and her twin sister, Ally Smith, have played in the Lady Rebels college since they were in eighth grade. They started playing basketball when they were 8 years old.
“Our two older brothers played, so we were always around the game,” Emma Smith said. “Our parents signed us up and we loved it from the start.”
The two share a bond on and off the pitch, and their familiarity with each other can be clearly seen every time they play a game.
“We are incredibly close,” Emma Smith said. “She’s my best friend. She can do anything on the pitch or say anything and I understand exactly what she’s saying. It’s been a blessing to play with her for five years.
“It’s crazy how fast these five years have gone by. I can’t believe that at most we only have three games left. »
Neither twin plans to play college basketball, so this week and/or next week holds special significance.
Ally Smith is heading to Auburn, and Emma Smith — who is an excellent student, scoring 34 ACT points and a 4.5 GPA — plans to attend the University of Denver and study finance.
“I want to do something different with the next chapter of my life,” said Emma Smith.