He’s one of the hottest names in New York City high-school basketball, a lethal combo guard who scored 68 points in a single game and has Division I coaches lighting his coach’s phone up like he illuminates a scoreboard.
If you haven’t heard of Bryan Smith, don’t worry you’re not alone. He doesn’t attend PSAL power brokers Lincoln or Boys & Girls. He wasn’t on the court last Saturday at Gauchos Gym when defending New York State Federation champion Christ the King beat Catholic school rival Rice.
He attends Midwood, a Brooklyn school best known for its sterling academics.
But Smith, who led Midwood to the Brooklyn A South crown this winter and 23-3 record by averaging 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists per game, is proving the player is more important than the division.
Talent evaluator Tom Konchalski has labeled him “New York City’s steal of the winter,” in his “High School Basketball Insider” report that goes out to hundreds of college coaches. Hofstra, LIU and Fordham have offered him scholarships. Clemson, Siena, UNC-Charlotte, UMBC, St. Bonaventure, College of Charleston and Iona are hot on his trail.
“The reputation of a school doesn’t mean everything,” Smith said. “You can go any place and get your name out there. It won’t happen as quickly, but it will get out there eventually.”
Smith is just one of many city standouts that have begun to get noticed at smaller schools. FDA III, a Class B school in The Bronx, has two Division I commits in forwards Moussa Kone (Hofstra) and Kevin Douglas (St. Francis College). In the Catholic league, defending Class A champion Archbishop Stepinac’s Conroy Baltimore is headed to Lehigh; Mount St. Michael guard Peter Aguilar has drawn interest from several mid-major programs; and ‘A’ power Cardinal Hayes forwards Amadou Sidibe and Jalen Jenkins are also hot commodities.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get noticed at lesser schools; in fact, it can be quite difficult.
“If Davon Sylvester played at Rice, all of a sudden he’s a dynamite guard,” Hayes coach Joe Lods said. “If Amadou Sidibe played at Rice, at an open gym we’d have 20 coaches there instead of five. If Jalen Jenkins was a 6-7 swingman at Rice, it would be ‘Oh, this kid’s got big potential.’ But at Cardinal Hayes, it’s ‘We’ll watch him, we’ll see, we don’t know.’
“There’s a lot of good players in the league that get overlooked because they’re in the ‘A’ league.”
There was a time Smith wasn’t sure his time would come. Friends, opponents, acquaintances, coaches, even AAU teammates advised him to leave. They told him he would never play Division I basketball if he stayed put. One day during his sophomore year, he considered leaving, before quickly changing his mind.
“I proved [the critics] wrong,” said Smith, who has qualified academically. “I have a good education at Midwood and I have good college offers. It’s getting crazy now.”
That’s the result of his patience and undeniable on-court ability. Acorn coach Kenny Pretlow, whose club lost to Midwood in a non-league game and also is an assistant at Lincoln, said Smith would start on any ‘AA’ club in the city.
“We would be unstoppable with a kid like that,” he said.
One Division I head coach, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 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.
The college coaches come to see him play, but Smith is also opening doors for Midwood center Enees Nikovic, who has drawn interest from several Division II programs.
“He’s given us a lot of press, which is good,” Gjecaj said. “At this point, I don’t think anybody’s gotten more exposure than him.”
Fordham coach Tom Pecora made a habit out of finding talent in small schools when he was at Hofstra.
He said too often kids get caught up in attending name high-school programs, the same way they get overly attached to major college teams.
“If you go somewhere you’re gonna be loved and really work hard and are passionate about academics and improving your skills, you will get recruited at a high level,” Pecora said. “It doesn’t matter as much where you go to high school.”
Smith is proving that to be a fact.