Each high school season, few things are more exciting than watching the next wave of young prospects emerge. Over the recent years, there have been noteworthy phenoms such as Jarin Stevenson, Coby White, Wendell Moore, Robert Dillingham, and countless others who have warranted a ton of buzz as freshmen. It’s not always easy to predict who’s going to set the world ablaze, but it becomes pretty transparent once the season begins. Oftentimes, so much attention is directed to guys who are physically more dominant than their peers rather than those with translatable skillsets. In a perfect world, we don’t have to choose between these two paths. We’ve seen varying types of players put up high-level production at early stages, but the separating factors ultimately boil down to two things: work ethic and ability to progress in a manner conducive to winning basketball. Right now, LJ Smith is checking all the boxes amidst his historically memorable freshman season at Lincolnton. We will take a closer look at his game, on-court success, and personal approach to the game…

For those who haven’t done a deep-dive on Smith’s numbers, brace yourselves. Through 11 games, the 6-foot-4 freshman is averaging an insane 31.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.6 SPG, and 1.1 BPG. Let’s be serious for a moment and collectively acknowledge this unbelievable production. Unfortunately, the shooting splits are only available for two games, but does it really matter at this point? Before anyone even has the chance to question the volume or how this equates to team success: Lincolnton has already won more games (10) than last season (9) in less than half the games played.

Furthermore, Smith has eclipsed the 30-point mark six times, 40-point mark three times (including back-to-back in his last two games), and scored less than 27 points only once this season. Add in his three double-doubles, and we are talking about a completely unprecedented start to a high school career.

We sat down and asked the noteworthy freshman about his experiences thus far:

JB: Talk about your preparation and how you’ve been able to be so impactful as a freshman.

LS: Preparation is just watching ball and seeing what I can do in certain situations, and getting in the gym everyday if I can. I’ve been impactful by just doing what I do best—rebounding, pushing the break, getting to the rack, dishing it off to a teammate, or breaking my man down and attacking the basket or pulling the three, which is probably my most valuable thing I do on the court.

JB: How do you see yourself as a player? Who do you watch/model your game after?

LS: I try to model my game after Darius Garland or Tyrese Maxey.

JB: What do you feel you need to improve on going forward?

LS: Moving forward, I think I need to work on getting my body right so I’m stronger when going to the rack. Becoming more athletic, too.

JB: What does it mean that you’ve already gotten Lincolnton to win more games than last year in only half the season?

LS: To me, it’s big to change the program and see my team with a winning record (10-1 entering conference play).

It’s clear that Smith is taking all the necessary steps to be a special player. Despite all the surrounding noise, he’s still working to hone his craft and continually improve. He’s already one of the best offensive players and overall scorers in North Carolina (third amongst all classes and first amongst freshmen by a mile, per MaxPreps), yet has only played 11 varsity games. It’s amazing to have seen his growth and trajectory from a tiny fifth-grader to now. Folks shouldn’t feel anything other than impressed by all these feats and accomplishments. Smith is already an extremely crafty, poised player with an incredible combination of IQ, size, and athleticism. He effortlessly generates clean looks off the bounce, mixes it up from all levels, and is capable of setting up others as needed. Smith recently earned his first Division I offer from Radford, but it’s going to be the first of many. Expect him to become a nationally recognized name sooner than later.