Kenyatta Smith didn’t have to wonder all that much to find the performance he deemed the worst game of his career.
Smith, the towering center for the Flintridge Prep boys’ basketball team, reflected back on a first-round playoff game last season. It was one in which he scored one point in the fourth-seeded Rebels’ 46-44 upset loss to Santa Clara.
Smith had hit rock bottom. It only proved to be temporarily.
“I had a terrible feeling scoring one point and I could have made a difference and we could have won that game had I made a couple of more baskets,” Smith said. “It stuck with me for some time and I made it a goal of mine never to do that again.
“I wasn’t going to let it affect me going into my senior year and I chose to use it as positive motivation. I knew that I had to work on my overall game some more and put more hours in the gym working out right up to the season opener.”
The power of positive thinking and an overall improved game on both ends of the floor buoyed Smith, who regrouped nicely by providing a physical presence and becoming a dominating force for the Rebels this season. Smith averaged 19.6 points, 14.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game and played a large role in helping Flintridge Prep capture the program’s first CIF championship in March.
The Harvard University-bound Smith also led the Rebels to a share of the Prep League championship with rival Pasadena Poly and picked up a slew of individual awards. It’s for each of those reasons that the 6-foot-8 Smith was named the All-Area Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year by the editors and sportswriters of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
“The entire team helped me get better this year,” said Smith, who was named the league’s most valuable player before earning the All-CIF V-AA Division Player of the Year and the prestigious John R. Wooden High School Player of the Year Award for CIF Southern Section Division V. “We played hard as a team.
“I could see the potential that we had. We knew after the first couple of practices leading up to this season that we could win CIF. Everybody was determined and recognized that it could become a reality as we got closer.”
Smith never came close to finishing a game with one point this season. Smith raised his level of play in the playoffs, also, as he averaged 22.6 points and 16 rebounds per game in seven postseason appearances.
Smith’s crowning moment came March 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA championship game against neighbor Muir at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana. Smith registered a team-high 15 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks to spark top-seeded Flintridge Prep to a 47-44 victory against third-seeded Muir.
Before winning the title and lifting the CIF championship plaque at center court in front of a throng of Flintridge Prep faithful, the Rebels defeated St. Paul, Whitney, Blair and Mission Prep. After winning the CIF crown, the Rebels (24-7) reached the second round of the CIF State Division V tournament.
“We felt great going into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed,” Smith said. “We wanted to prove that we deserved that.
“We were No. 1 for a reason because we had worked so hard all season and put everything into every game.”
Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said Smith, who earned All-Area first-team honors last season after averaging 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks per game, had the necessary tools and character to close out his high school career in style.
“Everything pointed that way for him to have a big season,” said Ohara, who was named the All-CIF Division V-AA Coach of the Year. “He had a great spring and summer for us and he then took charge right at the start of this season.
“He really improved on his outlet passes. He’d get [the ball] and get rid of it quickly to the guys for baskets. Kenyatta makes the team better by helping set up for easier shots. His blocks and rebounds also created a lot of our offense.
“I’ve had guys who could score in the past, but his all-around game, from scoring to rebounding to blocking shots, was incredible. He alters shots and he’s been a force on both ends of the floor.”
Smith received plenty of support from his teammates, including senior forward Jared Norsworthy.
Norsworthy, who averaged 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game en route to securing All-Area and All-CIF accolades, said Smith proved to be the quintessential floor leader and threat necessary for the Rebels.
“On the court, he was a terrific leader and he never let us get ahead of ourselves,” Norsworthy said. “Off the court, he’s a great friend, and, if you need something, you can ask him because he’s a very open guy.
“He and the team complimented each other so well. He just attracts so much attention. He was a lot more aggressive in fighting for a rebound and being able to get good positioning under both baskets.”
With Smith entrenched competing as a middle blocker for the school’s boys’ volleyball team and then preparing for the long-distance move to Massachusetts, he said he won’t forget the Rebels making school history.
When he walks into the school’s gymnasium in the years to come, Smith said he will look up at the CIF championship banner inside the gym and the plaque in the gymnasium’s foyer.
“It’s sunk in that we were able to win it all,” Smith said. “Every now and then, I had thought what it might be like to win CIF, and, now that we’ve won it, it’s the greatest feeling.
“It’s something that will stay with me forever. I left high school on top by having the best season that I’ve ever had. I can always reflect on that.”