Van Buren’s Mitchell Smith wanted to be the next Randy Johnson, not the next LeBron James.

Van Buren’s Mitchell Smith wanted to be the next Randy Johnson, not the next LeBron James.

At 6-foot-10, Smith would certainly be on his way.

Smith grew up a big Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals fan, which he learned from his mom, Karen. He wanted to play big-league baseball, not basketball.

“I liked it a lot better than basketball,” Smith said. “It was pretty intimidating seeing a tall kid on the mound. I wanted to play major league baseball. Randy Johnson is 6-10.”

It’s funny sometimes how career paths change.

Mitchell Smith was 6-7 during the summer before his freshman year of high school. Van Buren coach Randy Loyd called Selvin Smith, Mitchell’s dad, and told him that Mitchell could play a lot for the varsity team that fall.

“He didn’t say I’d start, but he said I’d play a lot because they didn’t have much height,” Smith said.

That summer, Mitchell Smith dropped baseball and began the summer basketball tour. It was a tough decision.

“It was,” Smith said. “It was worth it.”

His Mom

Smith grew up playing baseball and basketball in Macon, Ga., and his mom, a Braves and Cardinals fan, was his biggest fan.

“She was at every game,” Smith said.

In 2007, Selvin Smith took a job at a Fort Smith manufacturing company, and the family moved to Fort Smith.

“It was different at first,” Mitchell Smith said. “I got used to it.”

About a year later, though, Mitchell’s mom passed away from cancer after an 18-month battle.

Mitchell Smith was just 9 years old.

Up until this summer, he’s worn a red rubber bracelet under his sock with “Karen” on it to keep her memory with him every step he took on the court.

This summer while in a tournament in St. Louis, he broke it.

“I just stretched it too far, and it snapped,” Smith said. “I still have it, but I’ve got to get another one made.”

His Dad

His dad coached him all through baseball and basketball.

“He used to work us all of the time,” Smith said. “He was hard. He had us crying. If we didn’t go hard enough or back talked or anything, he’d make us run or do punishment.”

In baseball, obviously, Smith was never the team’s shortstop. He played first base and pitcher with guidance from his dad.

“He helped my batting and pitching,” Smith said.

Even though Mitchell Smith was always the biggest kid in each grade, his dad didn’t treat him as a typical post or center.

“My dad never played me as a post player,” Smith said. “He always had me out dribbling and stuff so I can be a guard. That’s what I talked about to my college coach.”

Smith is almost a gentle giant. His facial expressions don’t change much throughout a game. If anything, he’s smiling. His dad taught him to keep his composure and to stay calm.

“As a ninth-grader, he was pretty shy,” Loyd said. “That personality has come out in the last couple of years with the success he’s had.”

This season, it’s been more of a challenge with teams really concentrating on stopping Smith and packing the inside.

“Last year, teams played us man a lot,” Smith said. “This year, all we’ve seen is zones really. They put three guys or two on me and follow me the whole game and make somebody else beat them. I try to keep my cool, but sometimes I slip up.”

The Record

In Van Buren’s 60-48 win against Greenwood on Tuesday, Smith became Van Buren’s all-time leading scorer.

He scored with 30 seconds left to finish with eight points, taking only five shots in the game, giving him 1,359 points and surpassing Eddie Wornkey’s record set from 1977-81.

Smith only knew that he was getting kind of close to the all-time scoring record.

“Me and coach talked about it, but he wouldn’t tell me how many points I needed,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t tell me, but that’s big to have your name out there for a while until somebody breaks it and to be remembered.”

To break a record that stood for 35 years is remarkable for Smith.

“And he may keep it for 35 years,” Loyd said. “At the level we’re playing at, that’s going to be hard for somebody to get. That could last for a long time. You have to be really good as a freshman to play in the league we play in.”

Smith was more of a rebounder and shot blocker when he came up as a freshman, scoring 151 points in Van Buren’s 14-14 season.

“Even as a freshman, he was a force for us,” Loyd said. “He’s been our leading rebounder the last three years.”

As a sophomore, Smith’s improvement as a scorer was evident. He scored 421 points and Van Buren went 21-6 and advanced to the Class 7A quarterfinals for the second year in a row.

Last year, Smith scored 509 points in leading the Pointers to a 22-6 mark and to the Class 7A semifinals, where they lost to Bentonville.

“My scoring has picked up a lot since my ninth-grade year,” Smith said.

Last year, he was third in the 7A/6A-Central in scoring, but this year, he’s leading the league in scoring as well as rebounding.

“I’ve never seen a kid 6-10 with the skill he has,” Loyd said. “You’d think he’s a guard the way he handles it. He’s work on his perimeter shooting, which is something he’ll have to do at Missouri. He will. He is that kind of kid that has that kind of skill.”

Smith has especially gelled with players like point guard Jaylynn Dye and Jordan Barlow.

“We grew up together, all of us, playing Boys and Girls Club together,” Smith said. “Me and Jordan played baseball together, so we’re real close. It’s easy for us to go out there; we know what each other can do well, so we try to exploit it.”

With Dye zipping passes to him from all angles, Smith had better be ready on a fast break.

“He’s too fast out there; nobody can keep up with him,” Smith said. “He just runs past people, and he has such good vision.”

Dye also seems to know exactly where to put that alley-oop pass for a dunk.

“We’ve been working on that for quite some time,” Smith said.

Comparison

After the career scoring record fell, Loyd thought back over his career at Van Buren and made a very complimentary comparison.

“You don’t get a kid like Mitchell but once in a career,” Loyd said. “Hooper Vint was 6-10, and Billy Pharis was 6-8. He’s a combination of both of those.”

Vint, more of a true center, is currently playing at the University of Texas at El Paso and averaging 10.8 points and leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game.

Pharis, an all-around player, finished his collegiate career as an Arkansas Razorback and continues to play professionally in Asia.

Recruiting

Arkansas among other schools recruited Smith, but Missouri was the one that really stood out immediately.

Smith took one visit to Missouri, which was his official visit. He committed on the spot to new head coach Kim Anderson, who was an academic All-Big Eight at Missouri in his playing days.

“Sometimes, you know when you walk into a place,” Smith said. “Meeting with the academic people, I saw that I wasn’t just going to be an athlete there. They want student-athletes. Coach Anderson reminds me a lot of coach Loyd. He doesn’t yell. He talks to you and coaches you how to get better.”

“He’s a big man,” Smith said. “He’s 6-9 so he’s working with the post players not the guards, so that’s big for me.”

Missouri is currently being outrebounded in Southeastern Conference games by almost six per game. That’s where Smith comes in.

“That’s what Coach told me, that I can be a difference-maker up there,” Smith said. “He needed taller players, and that’s what he went out and got.”

Smith knows he still has a way to go with adding strength and weight to his 205-pound frame.

“I’ve gotten a lot broader,” Smith said. “Offseason we went at it hard, working out. I did gain some weight. That’s what college coaches talked to me about. I eat all of the time now and when I can I get in there and work out. When the season’s over, I’ll get in all of the time.”

Bothered

What bothers Smith as well as the other Pointers is the loss to Bentonville and highly touted Malik Monk in the semifinals of the Class 7A State Tournament last year.

It remains a low point of his career.

“For sure, especially after such a big win against Northside (in the second round),” Smith said. “Malik is a great player. He was just unconscious. He had 43 against us. It brought us back down and showed us what we needed to work on. We weren’t there yet.”

It’s been a driving force for the Pointers this year to reach new heights.

“Especially the state finals,” Smith said. “We want a ring. Coach Loyd needs a ring. I know it would be big for a whole city.”