Canarsie native Shenneika Smith hit a game-winning three-pointer to give St. John University’s Red Storm its first win over UConn since 1993 — breaking the Huskies stunning 99-game winning streak — and she has former coach Apache Paschall to thank.
Paschall — who coached Smith at St. Michael’s Academy and the Exodus travel team — died in January, but would have been proud of her for taking the shot, let alone making it. She had only hit three 3-pointers up until that point and was a bit stunned that she had the guts and confidence to shoot.
“At times he said I didn’t want the ball or I shouldn’t back down,” Smith said. “I think he’s proud of me that I stepped up and wanted that shot.”
Smith’s also heeded life lessons from her St. John’s coaches. First-year head coach Joe Tartamella, who was the top assistant under previous coach Kim Barnes Arico, has seen the Brooklyn hoops star grow both on and off the court.
Tartamella said the senior guard is communicating better and is more prepared for life after basketball, including a possible professional career.
“I think she is in a place now where she’s become a leader,” Tartamella said.
Smith came in as a nationally-ranked high school prospect and has been a consistent performer for St. John’s, averaging 12.4 points per game and 5.6 rebounds last season. An All-Big East first team selection a year ago and this preseason, she helped lead the Red Storm to its first ever Sweet Sixteen and a second place regular season finish, her coaches say.
“She’s always had these expectations to be the best player on the team, but she’s become more of a complete player and a compete teammate,” Tartamella said.
Smith is hoping to complete her college career in a big way. The Red Storm entered the season nationally ranked in multiple polls and were picked to finish fourth in the Big East.
She’s hoping for St. John’s to host a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament game in March and go further in the NCAA tournament.
“We know what we can do as a team and as a group,” Smith said. “If we continue to fight and pull together, the sky is the limit.”
Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.