Jahira Smith came to the Community College of Rhode Island without a lot of fanfare. The Brooklyn native had a solid career at Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut, but didn’t get a lot of looks from schools at the next level.
Two years later, Smith has become perhaps the best player in the history of CCRI women’s basketball. She’s the program’s all-time leader in assists and steals. Last Saturday, she became the school’s all-time leading scorer and with 11 more points, she’ll be the first-ever to 1,000.
Considering the beginnings, it’s been quite a ride.
“I didn’t come to CCRI with any intentions of doing anything I’ve accomplished,” Smith said. “It definitely feels good.”
Smith came to CCRI looking for an opportunity, and she seized it immediately. Last season, the Lady Knights fielded a young squad, with a host of freshmen in the starting lineup. With each passing game, Smith found herself taking on a bigger role than she envisioned.
By mid-season, she was the team’s go-to player.
“Jahira is our motor, our engine,” said head coach Kate Lynch.
Smith’s emergence last season helped power the young Lady Knights to the Region XXI championship. They ended up one step short of nationals, but they had forged an identity along the way.
Smith defined it.
“I love having a player like that who just says, ‘We’re not losing,’” Lynch said. “When you have a player like that on the floor, as a coach, you feel more confident. Regardless of whether you win our lose, you know they’re going to leave it all out there. To have a captain on the floor like that is really special.”
With Smith and many of her teammates returning this season, the Lady Knights were poised for big things, and they’ve delivered. CCRI got off to the best start in program history and rose as high as No. 8 in national polls. Last weekend, the Lady Knights captured another region championship, and they’ll head to the district tournament this weekend needing just one win for a spot at nationals.
Along the way, Smith has rewritten the record books. She broke Nicole Girard’s career assists record of 274, and now has 301. She’s also blown the steals record out of the water, with 252 and counting. The previous high was 162.
“She’s grown from last year to this year, and to be able to do what she has done and accomplish what she’s accomplished out of high school, it’s unfathomable,” Lynch said.
Smith set the scoring record in a region tournament game against Orange County Community College. Fittingly, it came after a steal. She raced in for a layup to break the record.
As big a moment as it was, Smith was mostly focused on the next play.
“I don’t know,” she said with a smile. “I just play every game like it’s any other game.”
More than records, that attitude has defined Smith’s time at CCRI.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete and a phenomenal player, but more importantly, she’s just a really, really good person,” Lynch said. “You would never know she plays how she plays. She’s quiet, always smiling, so much fun to be around. But on the court, she doesn’t want to lose. You can see it in her eyes.”
That drive has set the tone for the Lady Knights for two years now, and it’s also paved the way for Smith to take the next step. Claflin University in South Carolina, which has a Division II program, offered her a full scholarship and she accepted. She’ll continue her career there.
“She didn’t get a lot of interest out of high school,” Lynch said. “She wasn’t highly-touted. She chose to come here. Her grades have improved, her ability has improved, her confidence is through the roof. I’m so proud that she’s going to continue her career at Claflin. She has family in North Carolina so it’s the perfect fit. I’m glad she’s getting a chance now.”
With Smith’s time at CCRI running short, she’s had the chance to reflect. After the Lady Knights won the region championship on Sunday, she soaked in the moment and shared it with nearly everybody in the gym.
“I love my coach, I love my team and I love the school just in general,” she said. “It’s a good place to be.”
Before she head south, Smith has one piece of business to take care of – she wants to lead the Lady Knights to nationals.
“I can’t wait for that,” she said.
It would be a fitting end to a special journey. Whenever it finally ends, Smith’s name will remain cemented into the CCRI record books.
Her legacy will remain too.
“I love her dearly,” Lynch said. “You can’t replace a person or a player like Jahira. She deserves every accolade she’s gotten.”