Amherst senior Shaquita Smith is headed to a major Division I basketball program, and she said she owes a lot of the credit to her late grandmother.
"She's the one who used to get on me, telling me to do my homework -- 'You're not going to this tournament or that tournament unless you do your homework,' " Smith said of Nonnie Smith. "She passed away my freshman year at McKinley -- when she passed away, that just let me know that life is too short, that if I want to be successful, I needed to stop playing around and get to work."
Smith, who transferred from McKinley to Amherst before her junior season, said she verbally committed to Xavier University after visiting the Cincinnati campus this past weekend. Smith said she accepted eighth-year coach Kevin McGuff's scholarship offer over schools like South Florida (where she had a visit scheduled for next week), Canisius, University at Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Long Island University. She will officially sign a national letter of intent when the signing period begins in November.
Smith has played summer league basketball for Nick O'Neil of Buffalo-based Team United, and this summer she also played with a national-caliber team for Ring City Basketball. Ring City is a New Jersey-based organization run by former NBA player Ron Harper and his wife Maria. Smith played alongside several Division I recruits for coach Walter Welsh, who formerly coached the New York City power, the NYC Gauchos. Smith played in summer events in New Orleans, Atlanta, Tennessee and Washington, D.C.
Xavier went 13-1 to win the Atlantic 10 regular season title last year in recording its fifth straight 20-win season. The Musketeers made the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year and finished 20th in the AP poll. This season Xavier is in the preseason top 10 in several magazines.
Smith, a third-team All-Western New York selection last year and a fourth-teamer as a sophomore at McKinley, helped lead the Tigers to the Section VI Class A title last season. She has 1,027 career points.
"This summer what stood out was her defense in competing with some of the top players in nation," said O'Neil. "She hit a consistent three-point shot and Xavier liked her intensity."
O'Neil said one of Smith's best summer performances was at the Battle of the 'Boro at Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Tenn., a major recruiting event in women's basketball.
"It was one of the biggest tournaments in America and she did really well there," said O'Neil.
Smith said she liked the small class sizes at Xavier, and that the school identified alums in the Buffalo area that would help in networking.
"They have one of the top 20 business programs, and that's my major," she said. "They have good programs and they have people in Buffalo who can help me get started."
This weekend is quite the treat for football fans, with three great top 10 showdowns on Friday alone: Lancaster hosts Orchard Park, Iroquois hosts Sweet Home and Cheektowaga hosts Depew.
With No. 1 large school Orchard Park taking on No. 2 Lancaster, that makes two straight weeks that have seen showdowns between Nos. 1 and 2. Last week, Southwestern more than solidified its top ranking by dominating Lackawanna, 49-8, in a top two small schools game.
Two weeks in a row with No. 1 meeting No. 2, small schools one week and large schools the next -- it's definitely a treat. Can't remember the last time, the schedule had No. 1 playing No. 2 in large school football, much less two straight battles for two different top spots.
And while these games are superb, perhaps the best thing about this season is all the turnarounds. Eden and Wilson in the top 10. Niagara Falls at 3-1. Williamsville North and Roy-Hart ending long losing streaks. Cassadaga Valley starting very strong (there's another great matchup as the Cougars go up against Southwestern).
It's easy to say that all sports are cyclical, but it's good to see the hard work pay off at schools that haven't been used to being near the top in recent years.
Live chat Wednesday at 7
Our weekly live chat at the Prep Talk blog is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, where all high school sports are up for discussion. Go to buffalonews.com/blogs.