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Fearless Smith thriving with bolstered St. John’s team

Shenneika Smith (c.) goes up for a shot. Photo by Vincent Duscovic/SJU
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The biggest shot of Shenneika Smith’s career is rooted in lessons learned from former high school Coach Apache Paschall, who died of cancer before he could see her beat UConn.

“I thought about everything he would have said,” said Smith, a St. John’s University women’s basketball senior guard.

Two months after Paschall’s death Jan. 3 at the age of 38, Smith hit the game-winning three-pointer to give the Red Storm its first win over UConn since 1993 and end the Huskies’ remarkable 99-game winning streak.

Smith said the former Nazareth headman Paschall, who coached her at St. Michael Academy and with his Exodus travel team, would have been proud of her for just taking the shot, let alone making it because of the circumstances. She had only hit three three-pointers up until that point, but had the guts and confidence to shoot. It’s a confidence that continued to guide her career.

“At times he said I didn’t want the ball or I shouldn’t back down,” Smith said. “I think he was proud of me that I stepped up and wanted that shot.”

She has also heeded life lessons from her St. John’s coaches. First-year head Coach Joe Tartamella, who was the top assistant under previous Coach Kim Barnes Arico, has seen her grow off the court. Smith credited both with building a trust with her. She has a better handle on her focus and her emotions. Tartamella said she is communicating better and is better prepared for life after basketball, including a possible professional career.

“She probably didn’t understand the importance of communicating well consistently,” Tartamella said. “I think she is in a place now where she’s become a leader.”

Smith came in as a heralded and nationally ranked high school prospect and has been a consistent performer for St. John’s. She averaged 12.4 points per game and 5.6 rebounds last season. Smith, who was a first team All-Big East selection a year ago and this preseason, helped lead the Red Storm to its first ever Sweet Sixteen and a second place regular season finish in the Big East. She makes those around her better.

“She’s always had these expectations to be the best player on the team, but she’s become more of a complete player and a compete teammate,” Tartamella said.

Smith is hoping to complete her college career in a big way. The Red Storm enter the season nationally ranked in multiple polls and were picked to finish fourth in the Big East by the coaches. She is hoping for St. John’s to host an NCAA tournament game come March and go further in the NCAA tournament.

“We know what we can do as a team and as a group,” Smith said. “If we continue to fight and pull one another, the sky is the limit.”

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