The last four seasons have been good ones for Kentucky School for the Deaf, in part because they have also been good years for Aaron Smith.
Smith has been a major part of the Colonels’ recent run of success during his high school years, and for the last two seasons he has led the way.
KSD has clinched a winning record this season, and the Colonels have been just above .500 during Smith’s four years in high school.
“I am proud of our team winning many games since my freshman year,” he said. “We lost a lot of games when I was in seventh and eighth grades. Then when I was a freshman, I helped my team win many games, (but) it is also because there were other good players on the team.”
Still, the undisputed leader of this team is Smith, a four-year starter who is about to close an outstanding career at KSD. He has averaged in double figures in scoring for three straight seasons, and he has been the Colonels’ leading scorer for the past two years.
This season, Smith has played an even more important role on a team hit hard by the graduation of five seniors last year. He has taken more than one-third of the team’s shots and scored more than 40 percent of its points.
KSD assistant coach Byron Wilson said Smith hasn’t always had the best-looking shot or the best idea of when he should put it up, but he has been effective.
“He is a pure scorer. He could shoot from most anywhere, although his shot selection has made us scratch our heads sometimes. We wouldn't trade him for anyone, however,” Wilson said.
Smith is averaging 20.2 points per game this season, and he has 1,375 career points entering what will likely be the final game of his career tonight when the Colonels play Garrard County in the 45th District Tournament.
The Colonels will take a 14-12 record into that game at Garrard, and they are 49-45 over the last four years, and Smith has been a big part of that.
"Aaron has been an asset to our basketball program at KSD skills-wise,” Wilson said. “I have enjoyed working with him the last four years, and I'm sure (head) coach (Mike) Yance and previous head coach Kevin Hamilton have, too. We really appreciate having had Aaron with us, and also appreciate his family's devoted support for him.”
Smith has been playing basketball at KSD for 11 years — his first team was a second-grade squad coached by Joey Roth — and this is his sixth season on the high school varsity squad.
“My first memory was stealing the ball and then scoring in game when I was in seventh grade,” he said.
He has been scoring steadily ever since for the Colonels, averaging about 10 points per game as a sophomore and 14 points as a junior before scoring even more this season.
Smith brings the ball up the floor and runs the Colonels’ offense, and he said he is much more effective in that role than at his previous position in the post.
“I watched and learned from my former teammates, Travis Zornoza and Dustin Tipton. I tried to be like them, (and) I think that’s what made me a better player,” he said. “I played post in the past, but I wasn’t good. When I was moved to guard, I got much better.”
Wilson said Smith’s shot has gotten better, too.
“He has worked hard to improve his shooting,” Wilson said. “I can remember his shooting form being very unorthodox when he was a freshman. It has looked much better now.”
Smith has had the green light from KSD coach Mike Yance for the past two seasons, and it’s clear that his role is to shoot first, pass second.
“I keep looking to shoot unless defenses focus on me. Then I pass more to the other players,” he said.
Smith’s emotions occasionally got the better of him early in his career, but Wilson said he has matured to the point where that seldom happens now.
“Aaron has done a lot of maturing compared to his freshman year. He has tried to be a good leader for the team this year and has kept his emotions in check most of the time, although he lets them get the best of him from time to time,” Wilson said.
Smith, who is from Wallins in Harlan County, said his first exposure to the basketball came at age 4 or 5, which he recalls is when he started watching Kentucky games on television with his father.
He said his best memories at KSD are of being part of the team that reached the Mason-Dixon Tournament finals two years ago in their home gym, and of driving the length of the court for a layup with five seconds left that gave KSD a one-point win over Ohio School for the Deaf last month.
Smith said he plans to attend Naperville (Ill.) Community College for two years, then transfer to Illinois State to major in film editing. He said he’d like to play basketball in college, but he finds it hard to believe his time at KSD is almost up.
“It is hard to believe,” he said. “I feel very sad about the season coming to an end because I will miss the team, the coaches and playing basketball.”