State title or bust: St. Petersburg’s Serrel Smith has one goal left

St. Petersburg's Serrel Smith lunges forward to take a shot in the win over Plant City. [Times files]
St. Petersburg's Serrel Smith lunges forward to take a shot in the win over Plant City. [Times files]
Published March 8 2018

ST. PETERSBURG  — In four seasons, Serrel Smith has gone from role player to the cornerstone of St. Petersburg's boys basketball program.

He has carried the Green Devils with his tremendous talents, namely his ability to score. Smith can shoot from just about anywhere on the court, even with defenders intent on stopping him.

His offensive wizardry has led to a flurry of points, so many that the senior became the school's all-time leading scorer just a month into his final season.

Smith does not just score. He also wins.

On Friday, Smith will play in the state semifinals for the third time in his career, a feat few other players in the bay area can match.

Just getting there is not enough.

"I'm here to win it all," he said.

If Smith can do that, he can fill the rare void in an otherwise brilliant high school career.

Smith, who has already signed with Mississippi, could have played elsewhere. He toured Bradenton's IMG Academy in the offseason but gave little thought of transferring.

To him, St. Petersburg was home.

And he wants to bring home a championship, something the school has not accomplished since 1933.

"That's the big goal, the only goal," Smith said. "I don't think I had to stress that to my teammates. They knew that, too."

The first step comes Friday in the semifinals against Pompano Beach Blanche Ely, a familiar opponent.  The Tigers beat the Green Devils in the 2013 semifinals by 33 points and in the 2016 title game by 14.

Smith was a sophomore the last time St. Petersburg faced Blanche Ely.

"It was different back then," Smith said. "I took more of a backseat to some of the other guys who were starters. Now, I have a bigger role, more confidence and the ability to take control."

Given an offense — and a team — to run, Smith flourished.

Last season, Smith took on the bulk of the scoring responsibilities with so many other starters missing significant time because of injuries. He scored 30 or more points in 20 of the Green Devils' 28 games.

That was not enough to even get St. Petersburg to the state semifinals.

In the region final, Smith ran into foul trouble early and the Green Devils lost to Lakewood Ranch.

The painful memories of that loss served as a powerful motivator this season.

Smith again has led the team in scoring. His best game was two months ago at ASA National Hoopfest. Playing against national powerhouse Oak Hill (Va.), Smith scored 42 points.

"Serrel's done it all," St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell said. "He's been a leader, a scorer, and he's done it consistently against a national schedule the past two seasons. I thought it would be enough to get a nomination for the McDonald's All-American Game but hopefully he will be considered for Mr. Florida (the state's top player) in basketball."

Smith is no longer motivated by individual honors.

"I'm not out here playing for fun," Smith said. "I'm trying to win, and to get that ring."

State semifinals

At RP Funding Center (formerly the Lakeland Center). Admission is $10 pregame, $13 at the gate; parking is $10.

Class 7A: Hillsborough vs. Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee, 10 a.m. Friday

Class 8A: Pompano Beach Blanche Ely vs. St. Petersburg, 4 p.m. Friday