When Becca Smith started playing basketball at South Elgin High School, it was no secret she could score.
But over the four years she wore a Storm uniform, the intangibles Smith developed and improved upon allowed her to not only lead her high school team to new heights, but earned her a Division I scholarship to Loyola University as well.
"The first time I ever saw Becca play I had just gotten the girls job late and I couldn't get a summer camp going," recalled Storm coach Tim Prendergast. "Becca was in eighth grade and going to the boys camp and coach (Chaz) Taft says to me, 'You gotta see this kid.' I went to watch her play and I was like 'Wow.' I didn't know much about girls basketball then but then her freshman year at Oswego East we had to play two games in a day and she made a shot from beyond half court and we upset Waubonsie Valley, and then that night she made another one from almost the same spot. That was unbelievable. That was her coming out party. I could tell then she had a chance to be something special."
Boy, was Prendergast right on with that one.
This season culminated one of the finest careers of any girls basketball player in Fox Valley history. With a switch to the two-guard position, Smith's game amped up more than ever. She averaged an area-leading 20.5 points per game, as well as 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.8 steals. Along the way, she became just the third Fox Valley player to ever score 2,000 career points, and her final career total of 2,038 points ranks her second in area history, only behind former Bartlett and Notre Dame great Lindsay Schrader.
For her efforts this season and throughout her career, Smith has been chosen the honorary co-captain of the 2011-12 Daily Herald all-area girls basketball team. She shares the award with Bartlett senior Haley Videckis. Smith is the first South Elgin player to be recognized with the award in girls basketball.
"This was the most fun season I've had in high school," said Smith, the 5-foot-8 daughter of Tony and Laurie Smith who lives in west Elgin. "We accomplished a lot of things we hadn't in the past. We had a small young team but we had a lot of girls with heart. We might not have been the most skilled team but we worked hard and it showed."
It showed in the fact the Storm won a school-record 19 games and the program's first regional championship, bowing out against Cary-Grove, 49-47, in the sectional semifinals.
The move to the two wasn't all that unfamiliar for Smith, who was also honored as a Class 4A second-team all-state selection by the Associated Press and a third-team choice for the IBCA's Class 3-4A all-state team.
"I played with point guards in AAU like (Montini's) Whitney Holloway and (Niles West's) Jewell Loyd, so it wasn't that big of an adjustment," said Smith, who played for the Midwest Elite AAU team. "It worked out real well. I was able to get more shots and I was able to create more for my teammates."
Prendergast came to realize over Smith's four years that her contributions went beyond the stat sheet.
"What really stands out is her ability to get shots off with people defending her," he said. "Her athleticism and speed are incredible. She's just a fun player to watch. She could single-handedly win a game and you don't find that much in girls basketball. She was a scoring machine but what is overlooked is her passing ability. It will be exciting to see kids at the next level handle her passes."
Basketball has been in Smith's blood since, well, birth. Her dad played at Judson University and with two older brothers as well as brother Matthew in eighth grade (Becca says he's going to be the best Smith yet), the game has been a part of her life for a long time.
"Basketball's been in my blood forever. It's a family thing that we always bonded over," said Smith, who during her South Elgin career had 528 rebounds, 476 assists, 451 steals, 76 3-pointers (43 this season) and was a 71 percent career free throw shooter.
Smith didn't play without pressure. As her recruiting was heating up her junior year, a leg injury cost her 7 games. But Loyola never wavered in wanting her, so she was able to commit prior to her senior season.
"Once the pressure of that was off it made it easier to step on the court and play," she said.
Then came the 2,000 thing. Around school, in the papers, everywhere she'd go, that was all people wanted to talk to her about.
"Everyone was talking about it. I'd come to school and everyone would ask about it," she said. "I couldn't think about it. If it happened it happened. I just had to mentally prepare and stay focused on every game. I just wanted to get it out of the way and get our team a regional championship."
It happened in the semifinals of the South Elgin regional against Larkin and once it was done, Smith knew the significance of the milestone, especially because it came in a win on the road to that elusive regional title.
"I'd see girls the middle of the season hitting 1,000 and it's crazy to think about 2,000 but I give all the credit to my teammates," she said. "I never could have done it without them. Coming into high school I never thought something like that would happen."
Where Smith feels she improved her game the most is also something that doesn't show up directly on the stat sheet.
"I think I got better as a team player," she said. "I've realized that getting other people involved helps their confidence and it helps you, too. Over the last four years I've tried to steadily build people up and become more of a leader."
Prendergast saw that as well.
"She's almost like a coach on the floor," he said. "A lot of younger kids look up to her. She's set the bar at our school."
Being the family-oriented person she is, Smith credits and thanks her family first and foremost for reaching this point.
"First is my mom," she said. "Without her none of this would be possible. The sacrifices she's made for me have been insane. And I thank my dad and my brothers for all their support and my teammates. I've never had so much support from my teammates as I did this year. And I have to thank coach P and all my travel coaches, too, for everything they've done for me."
The next chapter in Smith's life, education and basketball career is waiting on the banks of Lake Michigan and she's excited about her future, one in which she will study kinisieology in hopes of becoming a physical therapist.
"It will be a whole new experience," she said of college, "and a whole new challenge."
And if her high school career is any indication of what the future holds, you can bet Becca Smith is going to be quite successful.
South Elgin High School
Conference: Upstate Eight Valley
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