Junior forward Shyia Smith has found her groove this season playing for the Lady Mavericks, showing why she got a second chance to be a main contributor at a Division I program.
Prior to her success this season, Smith showed signs of being a great player at Idabel High School in Idabel, Oklahoma.
During her time at Idabel High School, Smith was awarded Freshman of the Year. She followed up with back-to-back team MVP seasons as a sophomore and junior. In her junior year she averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Smith committed to Wichita State University coming out of high school. She spent two seasons with the Shockers, with her best season coming as a sophomore averaging 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Smith said she believes that her success at UTA has stemmed from the help of her teammates and coaching staff.
“We’re all close to each other, and every day in practice, we come to compete,” Smith said. “My teammates continue to push me, try to make me a better version of myself, as well as the coaching staff.”
Head coach Shereka Wright said there was a point in the off-season when it was unclear if Smith would play this season due to her waiver needing to be cleared.
“She really wanted to use this year as a year to kind of grow,” Wright said. “It was fortunate enough that we were able to get that waiver completed, and so I think more so for us she’s given us a legit scorer at that position.”
Smith has not been the only player to go through the transfer process. Senior forward Bre Wickware is a fellow transfer coming from Indiana University.
Wickware said she met Smith on a video call, and after getting to know Smith a bit more she thought she was quiet and sweet. Wickware did her best to help the transfer, giving her much-needed advice.
“Try your hardest and you’ll fit in where you fit in,” Wickware said.
Wickware said training with a new staff was an equalizer, and everyone had a blank slate.
Despite being a new player, Smith embraced her role on the team. She committed to UTA while Krista Gerlich was still head coach. Fortunately for Smith, her skill set fits into Wright’s scheme.
“She’s athletic. I think she’s versatile, those are the types of kids I look for,” Wright said. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to have her here for the next two years.”
Wright believes Smith is a player that she can build her program around for the foreseeable future.
Smith has had a smooth transition, leading the team in multiple categories this season so far. She averages 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game on the season.
Smith had her best game in the team’s conference opener against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Jan. 1.
She scored a team-high 21 points, going 9-10 from the line and collecting five rebounds. Smith followed that up by scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out one assist in the second game of the series.
With games like that, Smith’s teammates recognized how much of a force she can be on the court.
Wickware said that when Smith is on the court, everyone has to be on their “A-game” because she can score, guard and elude anyone with her moves.
“Shyia’s a beast on the court,” Wickware said. “Anytime we really need a bucket or something, Shyia’s always there.”
Her coaches are starting to notice the strides she is making as well. Not only with her play, but with her communication.
“[Smith’s] very encouraging with her teammates, and she is vocal,” Wright said. “More so offensively, I think her ability to be able to stretch the floor for us and play some on the wing has really expanded our game.”
One of the toughest challenges college athletes are going through right now is conditioning during COVID-19 and quarantine. Smith has found a way to stay true to her game while being off the court.
“You definitely have to stay disciplined and know when you get out of isolation, then you know it’s time to work,” Smith said. “You don’t want to be left behind or, you know, fall behind because you didn’t self-discipline.”
Regardless of her individual accomplishments, Smith has bigger plans for the Mavericks.
“As a team goal, I would say go to the championship,” Smith said. “Win it again for them.”