D'Mondta Smith doesn't appear to have much in the way of shortcomings when he's on a basketball court. Pressed into noting one, his Hixson High School coach, Alex Disbrow, said, "I've had to talk him into shooting more."
A 6-foot-5 standout player lacking bad habits and selfishness? That seems like a coach's dream. Yet despite all Smith does for the Wildcats, their season has been closer to nightmarish.
Coming into the week Smith was averaging 17.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.5 blocked shots and 1.9 steals per game. But Hixson is 5-14 heading into tonight's 7:30 District 6-A game at Tyner, which crushed the Wildcats on Nov. 29. Disbrow said forget the record, his team has developed greatly since then.
"We always have a chance to win any time we play," Smith said. "It's up to us to stick to it and play the way we can and hopefully come out with a win. At times it's been rough, but we're a team. We're a family. After we win, after we lose, we're still a family."
In the Wildcats' only district victory, 90-85 over East Hamilton on Jan. 12, Smith totaled 32 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and four assists.
One reason Disbrow wants to see Smith become more assertive is that Hixson starts three freshmen: Chandler Abbott, Windell Graham and William Nelson. Junior Allante Novene rounds out the starting lineup, and the top two reserves are sophomores.
"I'm not a very good coach if I've got three freshmen on the court in a close game and one of them takes the last shot instead of my Division I recruit," Disbrow said of Smith, who already has attracted attention from Murray State, Austin Peay and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "He's all about his teammates. We have to convince him that it's not selfish to give up shots but to take them. That's helping us. It's getting there, for sure."
Smith did not start playing basketball until his seventh-grade year at Orchard Knob, which could partly explain a lack of bad habits. He's been at Hixson since eighth grade.
"I didn't even like the game, but my dad wanted me to try it, so I just gave it a shot," Smith said of Darian Smith's encouragement. "I actually liked it. I was taller than most, but not near as fundamentally sound."
He has worked hard to improve in that area -- and in being a great teammate. Disbrow said Smith reluctantly plays AAU basketball in the summer for the exposure in front of college recruiters but "doesn't like it because it's not a team-based game."
"My teammates drive me to do better," Smith said.
He can't be so down-to-earth, can he? Pressed into finding another drawback with Smith, Disbrow said: "He doesn't have that killer intstinct. It's not in his personality, but it could come with age."
Asked to point out the most invaluable of Smith's many upsides, the coach said: "My favorite thing about D'Mondta is he's a junior."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.