Midwood’s Smith finds the right fit in Fordham

Bryan Smith verbally committed to Fordham University for the same reason he remained at Midwood for four years when other high-profile schools came calling: loyalty and academics.

Midwood’s star guard heard from bigger and more successful programs during a remarkable senior year, from Clemson to Hofstra to Boston College and the College of Charleston. Yet he verbally committed to The Bronx school and coach Tom Pecora on March 28 because they offered him a scholarship first and were always around.

“I was a priority for them,” said Smith. “That played a big role. They were there since Day 1 before the exposure happened. All the other schools came because of Tom Konchalski’s report [in the High-School Basketball Insider].”

Ultimately, Midwood coach Victor Gjecaj said, Smith picked Fordham over Hofstra, the other school that offered him a scholarship early this winter. He took visits to the two schools around the same time and said he “seriously considered Hofstra at one point, but after talking it over with my family, Fordham was the best place for me. I felt most comfortable there.”

Academics factored in heavily for Smith, a B student at Midwood, one of the PSAL’s best academic schools. His father, Arthur, attended Fordham, too.

“Education plays a big part in my family,” said Smith, who plans to study business at Fordham. “It has the best combination of basketball and academics.”

The 6-foot-2 combo guard joins fellow city standouts Jeffrey Short and Devon (Fatty) McMillan in Pecora’s 2011 class. Those additions, combined with returning underlcassmen Chris Gaston, Lamount Samuell and Branden Frazier, makes Smith think the future is a lot brighter than the past at Fordham, which went 7-21 in Pecora’s first season on the bench.

“I know they’re a program on the rise and I feel that with me and the other players that are there, we can get some wins,” he said. “I’m not expecting a dramatic turnaround. It’s a process, step by step.”

He recently led Midwood to its first PSAL title since 1968 and set the school’s single-game scoring record with 68 in a league-opening 105-56 win over James Madison. He averaged 28 points per game during the regular season, along with nine rebounds and seven assists.

One Division I head coach, speaking on condition of anonymity, said recently Smith could take a mid-major program “to the next level,” because of his shot-making and creativity. An assistant coach said “he’s the best guard in the city, without a doubt.” Konchalski, the renowned scout, said Smith is better than a mid-major player.

Still, Gjecaj said, Smith has so much more room to improve. Recruited as a point guard, he faced constant double- and triple-teams this winter, though he still put up gaudy numbers.

“The scary thing is as talented as he is, his upside is still so high,” Gjecaj said. “The kid has never been in the weight room and he is still so strong and athletic. Once he gets to college, where the focus is not just on him, he’s gonna improve a lot.”

Smith described feeling “a load off my chest” when he called Pecora and committed. At one time, Gjecaj said he was talking with 30 college coaches about Smith, by the most any player in his 13 years coaching basketball at Midwood.

The scholarship, Smith said, shows he made the right decision by remaining at Midwood and not transferring to one of the city’s basketball powerhouses, like many suggested.

“If you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do on the court and in class, schools will come regardless,” he said. “It feels great, it’s something I’ve wanted since I was a kid. It shows that I achieved one of my goals in life.”