Friday, September 21, 2018

Serrel Smith's mother knows best ... and basketball

Serrel Smith is the go-to guy for St. Petersburg High's boys basketball team because he is at his best with the ball in his hands. The senior guard's speciality is making long-distance shots.

Defenders are always intent on denying him an open look at the basket. It takes guts, guile, maybe even a screen or two from a teammate, before Smith gets the ball in his hands.

He makes jumpers from both sides of the court, off the dribble and from behind screens, in heavy congestion and wide open. Some of his 3-pointers are what-the-heck heaves from NBA range, but they still are classic Smith jumpers, arms extended above the head, elbow on the shooting arm, eyes following the ball.

Try to keep him from getting open?

That's a long shot indeed.

Smith's status as Pinellas County's premier jump shooter comes from his basketball bloodlines, notably from the females in his family.

His mother, Tamika Coley, starred at Pinellas Park, where she led the program to three straight final fours from 1989-91. She went on to play at UCF and was coach of the Green Devils' girls basketball program.

His sister, Kamika Idom, played for her mother at St. Petersburg before going on to Florida International (2011-15).

His cousin, Jerica Coley, was a star at St. Petersburg Catholic who led the nation in scoring (29.4 points) during her senior season at Florida International. She played briefly with the WNBA's New York Liberty.

With that kind of lineage, it seemed only natural that Smith would gravitate toward basketball. But his sporting life at an early age was completely different.

"I was more of a football player," he said.

Smith was more of a bystander in basketball, often tagging along at practices for the AAU and high school teams his mother coached. He sometimes would play pickup games with the girls.

"Serrel was around basketball so much because I was involved in it and so were the other girls," Tamika Coley said. "At some point, you're either going to develop a love for it or you're going too get sick of being around it."

Smith wanted more. Before long, nothing came close to basketball.

Even after darkness fell and his mother called him to come inside, Smith stayed in the driveway, shooting and dribbling.

His mother became his mentor and personal trainer. Smith started playing for AAU teams. He played basketball at Thurgood Middle School.

He gave up football.

Before Smith got to high school, he started thinking about college.

After strong performances on the court his first three years with the Green Devils, the offers started pouring in.

This summer, Smith narrowed his choices to Dayton, Ole Miss and Wichita State. He leaned on the women in his family, all of whom played at the college level, for advice. He discussed with his mother what to look for in a school and a program.

The two went on recruiting trips together.

Two weeks ago, Smith made his college plans official by announcing his commitment to Ole Miss.

"It was a tough choice, but I just like the coaches there and they felt I could be a real solid contributor right away," Smith said.

Now, the focus is on the high school season and getting back to the state semifinals, something St. Petersburg just missed out on last season.

His mother took a job this past season as an assistant women's basketball coach at St. Petersburg College, in part so she could attend as many of her son's games as possible.

"It was hard when I was coaching at St. Petersburg," Coley said. "I was only able to see about half of his games. This allows to be there just about every night. You only get to see your child play for so long so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

"It's going to be an exciting year."

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