Aiysha Smith – Louisiana State University
“Basketball is a big part of me,” explained Louisiana State University forward Aiysha Smith. “After my mother passed away (in 1993),” she continued, “it was my outlet.”
It was also the Detroit native’s ticket to a college education – specifically St. John’s University in 1998. But, disenchanted with the coaching system, Smith left in 2000 to attend Tyler Junior College in Texas. From there, the 6’2″ forward was recruited by LSU in 2001.
Smith’s voice bubbles with humor and the confidence of someone who learned quickly to make her own tough decisions. “Being an only child,” said the 22 year-old, “growing up with my grandparents – they were involved in my life, but they didn’t know too much about basketball. So I just had to pull myself together.”
“I’m used to change,” Smith added. “I’m good at adjusting to any situation. It’s opened me up to be very versatile.”
Last season, Smith unexpectedly became a starter as the LSU line-up was decimated by injuries. Her outstanding play earned her First Team Coaches All-SEC honors as well as Louisiana Newcomer of the Year. Smith, a General Studies major, also helped anchor the Tigers’ remarkable run through the SEC Championship and into the NCAA’s – despite playing only six players.
“We could never give up,” reflected Smith. “Coach (Sue) Gunter wouldn’t let us.”
In her senior year, both Smith and LSU have continued their high level of play into 2002-03. The team started the season with 15 straight wins and Smith has flourished in Gunter’s system, averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game. “Everybody has equal opportunity,” explained Smith. “Running the motion [offense], we don’t have a certain person who has to score all the points. You get open – you shoot.”
Despite LSU’s relative inexperience, Smith believes the team has what it takes to challenge for both the SEC and National Championship. “We have the physical,” she said. “We just have to be mentally ready.”
Noting how far a single loss dropped them in the polls, Smith reflected, “I don’t think people believe in us they way we believe in ourselves. But rankings don’t mean anything. As long as you play well, you’ll get what you really deserve.”