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When Fluvanna County senior Jake Smith gets a chance to mix it up in the post, he welcomes the opportunity.
No, that’s not accurate. He loves it.
“I enjoy going up against someone who’s a little big bigger than me,” Smith said after going toe-to-toe with James Monroe’s 6-foot-7 big man Te’Quan Alers for four quarters Friday night in the Group AA, Division 3 quarterfinals. “I can’t play football any more so I use basketball as my release for that. Any type of physical release I can get I take advantage of that.”
Smith lost football in middle school when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. Often congenital, stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal cavity. Smith continually experienced stingers while playing middle school football and after one in eighth grade he couldn’t lift his head without pain. His mother took him to the doctor where they did an MRI and an x-ray and found spinal stenosis. The average person’s cavity is 14-22 millimeters and Smith’s checks in at 10 millimeters. That gives him no extra cushion on impact. His neurologist informed him that football and other contact sports were out.
“It was rough hearing that news,” Smith said. “It wasn’t the pain that was hurtful, it was the fact that I couldn’t play football.”
Smith looks like a natural football player at around 6-foot-4 and he knows it.
“I have the size for it and everything,” Smith said. “And I loved it.”
But he’d played basketball all along as well, so he doubled down on his efforts on the hardwood when the doctor let him know contact sports were going to be too risky. That extra effort likely helped Smith develop into his current role. It hasn’t come without incident though. Against Handley, during the Flucos’ holiday tournament, the Judges’ post player fell on Smith and sort of folded him up. He shook it off and finished the game, but woke up the next morning with symptoms just like he did after that fateful middle school injury. He headed to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a pair of herniated discs that slipped away from the spine, a fact that saved his season because they healed on their own.
That’s been huge for the Flucos. A year after Smith averaged just over two points and two rebounds as part of last year’s squad, Smith emerged as a key contributor early this year for the Flucos, giving Fluvanna more than six points per game.
One of his finest performances came against Monroe Friday, when he notched 12 points including a back-to-back-to-back stretch of buckets in the second quarter that came at a critical time for the Flucos.
Smith is the kind of player head coach Munro Rateau is referring to when he talks about how improved the Flucos are now versus when the season first tipped off. Smith has consistently improved and grown into his role, particularly on defense. He can neutralize opposing post players like he did Alers in the second half, holding him to just three points after the break. That gives Fluvanna a desperately needed presence in the post.
The senior is looking at West Virginia or Radford University for college next year. In the meantime, he’ll keep enjoying a second straight deep postseason run by Fluvanna County’s basketball squad. He’s certainly made the most of what was a secondary sport for the big man.
Cave Spring (Roanoke) (18-11) versus Fluvanna County (25-3), 1 p.m. at Siegel Center in Richmond
Group AA, Division 3 Semifinal
The basics: While Cave Spring may have a few more losses to its name, the similarities between the Flucos and Knights are much more numerous. They’re both regional champs and neither won its district tournament as Cave Spring fell in the final to Christiansburg, a team set to play Potomac Falls in the Division 4 semifinals Tuesday. They’ve both displayed offensive balance of late, with Fluvanna posting four double digit scorers against James Monroe and Cave Spring producing a pair near-20-point scorers in Connor Baker and Amin Abuhawwas. Abuhawwas, who was cut as a freshman from the program’s JV squad, is now the Region IV player of the year. Suffice it to say, Fluvanna has its work cut out for it.
Key matchup: Fluvanna’s perimeter defense tries to lock down the suddenly explosive Connor Baker of Cave Spring. The Flucos will have to be wary of Baker wherever he goes. Baker has taken his game to a new level in the postseason and he knocked down both 3-pointers he took against Waynesboro. Can Fluvanna’s defense, spearheaded by Vinny Agee, prove up to the task once again?
Who to watch: Fluvanna’s YaYa Anderson. Anderson is always the focal point for the opposition’s defense and he still managed to scorch James Monroe for 15 points in the opening quarter last Friday. After last year’s illness-marred Division 3 semifinal, Anderson will surely be looking to make up for lost time.