Mitchell Smith has been the face of the Van Buren basketball program for the last three years, and that’s unlikely to change during his senior year.
As a gangly 6-foot-8 freshman, Smith helped lead the Pointers to the 7A state tournament, and has done so as a sophomore and a junior as well.
It’s a far cry from his childhood, when basketball was just something you did until baseball season started in the spring.
“I grew a lot one summer and so my dad got me in the gym more,” Smith said. “And then I just fell in love with it from there. My dad is probably my biggest influence, along with my sister.”
Smith loves being a Pointer, especially playing for longtime coach Randy Loyd.
“It’s great, the community really comes out and supports us every night,” Smith said. “And playing for Coach Loyd has really changed my life. He’s a great coach. He puts in the hours with us to make us better each and every day. Being with him for four years has made us close, and he’s the type of person who will jump you in practice but will be the first person to help you if you need it.”
Loyd, who also doubles as Van Buren’s athletic director, knew between Smith’s sophomore and junior year that he had the ability to play major college basketball.
“I knew he had the skill level to do it,” Loyd said. “I saw the improvement he was making from working hard every day. In the four years I’ve had him, he hasn’t taken a day off practice. He brings it every day.”
Van Buren has produced a number of talented post players since Loyd took over the program in 1994, including Billy Pharis, who played at Arkansas and is still playing overseas, as well as Hooper Vint, who is playing at Texas El-Paso.
Loyd said Smith ranks at the top.
“For big men, he is the most skilled player I’ve ever coached,” Loyd said. “Mitchell has a bright future ahead of him if he continues to work hard.”
Winning a state championship would be music to Smith’s ears, but he is primarily focused on becoming the best player he can be.
“I want to get stronger in the weight room, and work on my new skills that I’m establishing for playing at the collegiate level,” Smith said.
Earlier this school year, Smith orally committed to Missouri and their second-year coach Kim Anderson.
“Just the atmosphere in being in Columbia was great, and talking with Coach Anderson and other members of the staff made me feel very wanted,” Smith said. “I liked hearing that I could come in my first year and make an impact, that was very important to me. It all just depends on how hard I work.”
Loyd said that Missouri is getting a special young man and a great player in Smith.
“His strengths are knowledge of the game, his work ethic and being very skilled for his size,” Loyd said. “He needs to get bigger and stronger and that will happen once he arrives at Missouri.”