The Charlotte Avenue Elementary School hoop court can be quite the proving ground.
Just ask Nashua North senior guard Jaden Smith.
Back in the second grade, Smith watched an all-boys game of knockout taking place one day, and she wanted in.
“They told me I couldn’t play, that girls couldn’t or shouldn’t play, and I just didn’t like that,” said Smith. “I was upset all day I went home and told my mom what happened. I promised her I would prove them wrong. The next day I went back and I forced my way into that game, and you know what, I won it.”
The rest as they say is history. A young girl, heavy into drama and dance, had been hooked.
Sports would be her passion, a notion that was hatched when Paul Pierce and Co. hung Banner 17 in 2008.
Slowly drifting away from drama, Smith grew into one of the city’s more dynamic athletes, focussing on hoop and track and field where she now competes in the 200, 300 hurdles and 4×400 relay.
More importantly she became a special person and a complete student-athlete, poised to take on the world.
“She is absolutely one of a kind,” said North basketball coach Christina Bean. “It’s going to be hard to lose her.”
We caught up with Smith to talk some hoop, school, movies, teammates, family and more.
So Paul Pierce, eh? What makes him so special?
“I loved how creative he is with the ball. He was so team-oriented. I love how he balanced things on the floor.”
So that’s a great take on a surefire Hall of Famer in Pierce. Tell me about Jaden Smith’s game?
“Basketball is my therapy. I’m a really passionate player. I try to be a creative player when it comes to individual skills but I’m a team player. I love to see others succeed on the court.”
You guys are struggling right now. Are you and the other six seniors holding it together?
“We’re trying hard. These seniors have been playing together since travel in fifth grade. We’re kind of struggling to believe in ourselves right now. It’s time to start believing in each other. If we do that we can be an even better team.”
Can you believe it? You’ve got about a month left in your high school hoop career?
“It really does fly by. I didn’t believe that freshman year. It feels like i just started being a player here. I want to look back on the team as a positive experience, being sisters, being a family. If we come together, we have that drive. I feel like we can win the games we need to make playoffs and even more so have an upset in the first round.”
You mentioned your senior teammates. Time for a little word association. What comes into your head when we say:
Arianna Motivala? “Such a good leader, a quiet leader. When she decides what is best for this team, we all just feed off of her.”
Katie Carr? “A fantastic worker. Always pushing herself and pushing us. Just a great teammate since fifth grade.”
Shannon Grady? “A great passer. She’s so comfortable using her left hand. When she is confident in herself, she plays amazing.”
Julia Gagnon? “She’s most consistent with her mentality every time she’s on the court. She trusts her ability. And she always knows how to pick me up after a tough loss.”
Janessa Lofton? “Such a close friend since the fifth grade and that translates for us on the court. Just a remarkable player. She’s back from the ACL injury last year and you’d never know it by the way she looks out there.”
Peyton Ryan? “Great shooter, and she’s always working on that shot. She’s so focussed on that form and it shows. Such a vocal presence on our team, always encouraging her teammates.”
Once hoop ends, it’s on to your last season or outdoor track?
“I like how track is an individual sport and a team sport at the same time. I really do love running. We have really good chemistry as a team, boys and girls. It’s a social sport.. You meet a lot of friends through the events. It’s nice to see other people do well.”
OK, I can’t ignore this anymore. Jaden Smith? You must hear about that name 24/7. What’s it like sharing the name with a mega movie star and the son of the “Fresh Prince?”
“It’s kind of funny. I hear about it a lot, and I try to make the best of it. Some times, I just roll with it and laugh. People ask if I was named after him or if I was related. It’s kind of cool to have a famous name.”
Obviously, the other Jaden Smith burst into prominence in the remake of the “Karate Kid.” Did you see it? And what did you think?
“Yeah, I saw it. I made sure to watch the original (Ralph Macchio) before so I understood the whole thing. The new one was good, but I definitely thought the original one was better.”
Senior year, it’s a crazy time for a lot of high school kids. Talk to me about Jaden Smith, the student. Do you have it all together?
“I’m a student that doesn’t like to settle for anything besides an “A.” Sure, I’ve gotten some B’s, but education should always come first. I’m in the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society and the Student Athletic Leadership Council.”
And what about the near future? Does college await?
“I applied early action at a few colleges and I’m hoping to be an athletic trainer. I’ve been accepted to Penn State and Hofstra. Those are my top two choices.”
Wow, Jaden. It seems like you have things all lined up. From where does all this passion and drive come?
“Definitely, my family. My dad, Reggie (no, not the Boston Red Sox right fielder on the ’67 Impossible Dream Team) has been so supportive of me my whole life in sports. He’s always there for me. So many times, he’s coming right from work to one of my games, without even stopping for a bite. He’s amazing. I just hope he knows how grateful I am for it.
“And my mom, Hope, she’s always been there for me no matter what. Nobody is better than her.
“Also, I have two younger brothers, Isaac and Darius. We’re best friends. They’re just the two most important people in my life.”