Hickory Grove Christian’s 2021 AJ Smith continues to be one of the top prospects in his class. He has seen his game hit another level in the last two seasons, Smith has been putting in the work.
What has he been continuing to work on during this offseason and when looking back at already, what has he learned to appreciate both on and off the court?
Lastly, hold multiple levels already, schools around the country seem to have their eye on Smith as well and could become a player in his recruitment.
First, like to start off and ask how everything has been going with you and everyone around you?
Everything has been going well. I have been able to spend good quality time with my family.
Have you been continuing to put in the work still this offseason, finding some new ways to trains and all? If so, what have you been able to do so far?
Yes sir, I have been really working on my endurance as I run every day. I also have been working on my core daily. I have a goal at home so I have been able to work on my 3-level scoring while also really emphasizing my handles.
I wanted to look back at your high school career so far at Hickory Grove. As a freshman, you made some early noise, averaging 10 points per game. But in your sophomore season, you made an incredible jump to 25 points per game and really making a name for yourself. What was that jump like and what do you think allowed you to make such a jump? What changed with you and your game?
It was really the work that I put in over the summer, I also had such confidence in the work I put in that I was going to thrive in this great environment.
This season, pushed your total up to 28 points per game, 8.2 rebounds. What has it been like now having that target on your back and looking to produce at a high level each and every night?
I just have the urge to always get better. Even after a big season, I knew the competition would be trying to stop me. I added more intangibles to my game and picked the brains of great coaches and players as I steadily worked on my skill. On the court, I just trust what I know I am capable of and do all that I can for us to win.
You had to take a bigger step in your game both on and off the court, becoming more of a leader and all. How was that for you and how do you think you handled that pressure?
I love pressure situations, there is always pressure in anything in life. I really love the big moments so pressure does nothing but enhance my performance. I just have confidence in what I know I can do and stay humble, and try to make others around me better.
How would you best describe your game on the court in your words?
On the court after this offseason. I would describe myself as a vocal 3 level scorer who can defend 3 positions and facilitate and involve teammates as well as crash the glass.
You have been putting in a ton of work this past summer and over the past year. What have been some of your focuses on your game and where you would like to improve?
I have emphasized my 3-point shot, ball handling, and body conditioning. I have been improving my game as a whole.
You seem to have a great relationship with your coaches at Hickory Grove. What has that relationship been like and how have they helped you along the way throughout your career?
They are great God-fearing and religious men who truly care about me as a person. They support me in any situation and push me constantly to be a better player. Coach Rhodes, Turner, and Nelson have my best interests at heart.
Playing with Team Charlotte as well, what has that been like for you, and what has it shown you? What have you been able to take away so far from that program?
It has shown me that I am able to do well against the best competition in the country even playing a year up. It has taught me so much playing for a Coach with as much experience as Jeff McInnis, and with as much passion as Coach Keenan and Sims. Most of all, it has shown me that I need to assert myself even with high-level talent around, and I realized that I can use all of my unique abilities to make an even bigger impact for my team as a whole.
Back on the school side of things, you have an impressive 4.75 GPA. What does that mean to you and what kind of hard work goes into also being an excellent student?
My parents have instilled in me early that grades are a crucial part of being a young man growing up. I know that as much as I love basketball, it will stop bouncing one day, and an education is something that I will always have. No matter if it a basketball game or a test, in everything I do will give my all.
As far as school, what are subjects or areas that you are enjoying learning more about and possibly may be looking to do down the road, outside of basketball?
I enjoy math and science. After basketball, I could possibly see myself in the business field in some capacity.
Your journey is just beginning with basketball and school, but so far, looking back at it all, what have you come to appreciate everything and your look at what the future holds for you?
I have come to appreciate the mentality of hard work that I have grown to embrace. I also truly value all of the relationships that I have established playing this game. I look forward to what the future holds and being able to grow as a player and person daily.
Now heading into your recruitment. What has been going on lately overall with your recruitment?
I have been hearing from many high-level college coaches from around the country who explain that they are “looking to recruit me”.
What have college coaches been saying to you that they like, what you could bring to the court for them, and all?
They just say they love the way I can dominate on both ends of the floor, they love the explosiveness in my game and I have a college-ready body with limitless potential.
What offers do you currently hold right now and would you say anyone has really been standing out or continuing to make a strong push for you?
I hold offers from Charlotte, Hampton, Texas A&M, App State, Winthrop, Elon, and UNCW.
Your biggest offer so far may be from Texas A&M. What has been the latest with them and that staff? What are your thoughts on that program and what have you been able to learn about them?
I hear from Texas A&M on occasion, my coach said they were going to send someone in to visit soon, but the coronavirus began to work its way around. I know that they are a great school with a passionate coach. They are a high-level program.
Several in-state schools have been pushing hard for you. What are your thoughts of possibly staying in-state and what has been a big selling point with those programs?
My college decision may not as much be determined by distance, but I certainly appreciate the love I receive from many hometown schools!
Which schools have you been able to visit and what stood out about each one?
I have only been able to visit Clemson, Charlotte, and Winthrop. I loved the staff and the demeanor of everyone on campus.
Outside of your offers, what schools have been showing strong interest? And have any said they an offer could be coming soon or what they are hoping to see more from you?
Providence, Stanford, Marquette, Temple, and ECU have started to establish ties with me. I also have heard from Harvard and received mail from Clemson as I have been in touch with them for a while. I also receive mail regularly from Virginia.
When you talk to schools and you dive more into their programs, what are a few factors that you are looking on the court, and what are others off the court that you are looking at?
I am looking for a great culture with players and coaches that genuinely want the best for their players, and people who all have the will to win. As well as a supportive student body.
Are there any schools that you are hoping to visit at some point or want to down the road?
I would love to visit Texas A&M, Stanford, and Providence.
In the end, what do you think you will be able to bring to a college program in the coming years?
At the end of the day, a college will be getting a player wired to score defend and facilitate, and an overall competitor. They will also be getting a humble guy who will work the hardest day in and day out. A great role model off the court.
Getting to know AJ more:
What is your favorite activity to do outside of
Spend time with friends and family, listen to music
If you could play another sport other than basketball,
what would it be?
Soccer, I have never been good at it
Favorite player to watch growing up?
Best player that resembles your game?
Dwayne Wade/Bradley Beal
Favorite food to eat?
Favorite subject in school?
If you could visit any place in the world, where would
If you could play one player in the NBA, who would you
want to go up against?
Favorite team (NBA, College, etc)?