The alarm clock rings every morning in Tarin Smith’s bedroom in the family home in Ocean Township at 5:30 a.m. in order to catch the 6:30 a.m. bus to north to Jersey City. The journey ends around 7:50 a.m., when Smith arrives in time for the first period at St. Anthony High School at 8:10 a.m.
That’s some commute just to go to school.
“It was tough at first, but I’m used to it now,” said Smith, a senior guard on the Friars’ state-ranked basketball team.
On days when there’s only practice, Smith gets home around 8:30 p.m. When there’s a game, Smith’s father will provide transportation home, but the arrival time back in Ocean varies.
Regardless, that’s a long day for a 17-year-old high school senior to endure.
It’s tougher when you’re the top-ranked student in your graduating class.
“I’m able to get some stuff done when I’m on the bus, some reading, some homework,” said Smith, who is on target to be the valedictorian for the St. Anthony Class of 2014. “It’s life. I had to make sacrifices to get where I want to be.”
Now, throw in the responsibilities of being the leading scorer and leader for one of the top teams in New Jersey.
Smith was asked to do a lot with this year’s Friar squad, considering he’s the lone returnee with any varsity experience whatsoever.
“He’s had a very large job, a very large task,” said St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley. “Our team is inexperienced and our schedule is the hardest it’s been in over a decade. Usually, we’ve had one or two veterans returning. We’re asking him to get more shots as our leading scorer, then get the supporting cast involved. It’s more difficult this year.”
Not only does Smith have to worry about his duties on the floor, but there’s an added pressure off the court. He still has yet to make a commitment about his college plans.
“He hasn’t committed early,” Hurley said. “Coaches are still coming to see him. More people are getting involved, with more phone calls. That could lead to a lack of concentration, but Tarin is handling it as well as a 17-year-old kid can.”
Smith understands that he’s a late bloomer in the recruiting process.
“I think this is the first time I’ve had a chance to show my ability,” Smith said. “I think I always had the tools to do it. I just needed the chance to be a leader on the court. I knew I had to score more this year, so I worked hard on it. I had to test myself to see where I am at for the next level. It all comes with the territory.”
Smith has already been accepted by such prestigious Ivy League schools as Harvard, Princeton, and Penn.
But he’s also being recruited by Boston College, Duquesne, Rhode Island (where Hurley’s son Dan is the head coach), Providence, Delaware, Creighton, Fordham and St. Louis.
“I received about 20 offers over the summer,” said the 6-foot-2 Smith. “My parents put that in me that the student in student/athlete comes first. That hard work has paid off. In basketball, I’m a late bloomer, because I had to play behind such great players as Myles Mack [Rutgers], Kyle Anderson [UCLA], and Josh Brown [Temple]. I’m getting my chance now. It’s all coming full circle.”
Smith has not decided on his college choice just yet. There are games left to play this season.
“But it’s definitely flattering that these colleges have given me offers,” Smith said. “It can be a little distracting when the coaches call, but I’m definitely honored to have the schools call me.”
Smith has handled things quite well, leading the 11-3 Friars in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game. He scored 16 points in a win over Cardozo of New York in the SNY Invitational, scored 13 in the Friars’ loss to Bishop Loughlin in the finals of the SNY Tournament and added 12 in a lopsided win over Bound Brook last Monday.
For his efforts, Smith has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Hurley sings Smith’s praises.
“He’s one of the best unsigned point guards left in the country,” Hurley said. “With the games he’s had, he’s become more attractive. He’s physically filled out late. He’s a lot more physically stronger. He’s noticeably improved as a player. He gets to spots, then raise up and get his shot off. He also gets to the basket strong for his size and jumps very well for his size.”
Added Hurley, “We’ve worked hard on his shooting mechanics. He used to put the ball over his head, but he’s now become a much better shooter and can attack the basket with both hands.”
Hurley has asked a lot of Smith – and now the Hall of Fame coach is asking a little bit more.
“We need him to be more vocal in the game, on the bench with his teammates,” Hurley said. “We need him to be more vocal in practice. We have to keep perspective of what we can expect from the kid, but there are still 12 or 13 things he can get better at. There’s still a lot more that can come out. I haven’t asked this much of a kid in a very long time, maybe a decade or more. We’re playing a lot more sophomores this year than we have in the past. Some days, there is too much on his plate, with everything going on. But he’s handling it pretty well.”
Hurley said that he presented Smith with his mid-way season report card with things he needs to work on.
“Right off the bat, I saw him do things that were on the report card,” Hurley said. “He just keeps improving.”
Smith is just trying to juggle everything as best as he can. Smith has the long commute to and from school, with the demands of being No. 1 in his academic class and being the leader for the basketball team. It’s certainly a lot.
“I’m definitely proud of myself,” Smith said. “I don’t want to think about it too much, because it might get to me. I am just looking forward to the next game.”
And obviously, the next challenge that comes with being the leader of the Friars. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.