Stevenson's Smith is hungry for more

  • Stevenson's Justin Smith, left, dunks on North Chicago's X'Zemenize Boose during the North Suburban Conference boys basketball championship game.

      Stevenson's Justin Smith, left, dunks on North Chicago's X'Zemenize Boose during the North Suburban Conference boys basketball championship game. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Junior forward Justin Smith is the lone returning starter from last year's state championship team, and he's helped Stevenson's program maintain a high level of play. Read more about the all-area team captain on Page 4.

      Junior forward Justin Smith is the lone returning starter from last year's state championship team, and he's helped Stevenson's program maintain a high level of play. Read more about the all-area team captain on Page 4. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/3/2016 4:08 PM

It's not just wall-to-wall SportsCenter and basketball games on Justin Smith's TV.

The Stevenson junior forward, one of the best underclass basketball players in the state of Illinois, also has other interests.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I really like the Food Network, shows like 'Chopped' and 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,' " Smith said. "It's entertaining to me. I like all kinds of foods. I've tried calamari and frog legs and different kinds of foods like that.

"I like watching those shows and seeing the foods on there to gauge whether or not I would try them."

One meal that is already a proven slam dunk with Smith, who happens to be the best dunker in Lake County, is the No. 7 sandwich at Jimmy John's.

"It's a ham, cheese, lettuce, mayo, no tomato," Smith said. "I really like it and I eat it before every game. I go out eighth hour, because I have eighth hour free, and I go get my sandwich. Every time."

So . . . let's just say, that disaster strikes, and Jimmy John's is out of the No. 7 on game day.

"I don't think I would play different," Smith said with a nervous chuckle. "But let's just hope that never happens."

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Sandwich or no sandwich, it's unlikely Smith would have been anything but the best player in Lake County this season. His natural talents put him at a different level, and he's been a model of versatility and consistency.

It's why Smith is carrying on the tradition of Stevenson players being named the honorary captain of the Daily Herald's Lake County all-area boys basketball team. Former Stevenson great Jalen Brunson, now a freshman starter Villanova, won the award the previous two seasons.

Smith, who averages 17 points, 8 rebounds and a dunk or two a game (crowd-pleasing dunks, not ho-hum dunks), gets it for 2016.

"It's a really nice honor because there are some other really good players in this area," Smith said. "But for me, it's really been about what we could do as a team this season and what did I need to do for the team.

"We lost some really good players and leaders in Jalen (Brunson) and Connor (Cashaw, now playing at Rice) and I knew I was going to have to be more of a leader. They kind of took care of all the leadership last year and I just got to kind of hang out. I knew that this year I needed to take on more responsibility and I've enjoyed that."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Smith is trying to get the Patriots back to Peoria. He knows nothing different.

He was brought up to the varsity as a freshman two years ago and played here and there during Stevenson's first run downstate, which resulted in a third-place finish.

Last year, he started as the Patriots won the Class 4A state championship.

"I enjoy playing in March," Smith said. "My only real goal this year is to get us back downstate."

Smith also wants to keep improving. He's got one more year at Stevenson but likely many more years of basketball after that. He's got Division I scholarship offers from eight schools, including Indiana, DePaul, Rice, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Wake Forest and Illinois. He's also heard consistently from dozens of other schools.

"I'm never satisfied," Smith said. "I always want more for myself. I'd like to tighten up my ball-handling, create better for myself and my teammates, cut down on turnovers and dumb plays and work on my shot."

Smith first crafted his shot on his driveway, with his dad Edward, a banker, faithfully rebounding for him.

"He introduced me to the game, took me to the gym, rebounded for me," Smith said of his dad. "He'd get home from work and wouldn't even take off his suit. He'd want to rebound for me right away, so he was out there in his suit from work.

"My dad got me a little hoop when I was really young and has always played with me. He really helped shape my love of the game."

And the right kind of food has helped keep Smith's game in shape.

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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