Smith ready to enjoy every ounce of his final games as a Star

Kaleb Smith fighting for the ball against John Brown on Jan. 9 at Abe Lemons Arena. By Jude Bryant.

When Kaleb Smith steps onto the court in Shawnee today, it will represent the start of his final days of postseason competition of college basketball.

The Oklahoma City Stars face Mid-America Christian in the quarterfinals of the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament in the Mabee Arena at the Noble Complex today at 4:30 p.m.

And although Smith’s basketball journey ends in an OCU uniform, it might have not begun that way.

A high school standout at Harvest Life in Midwest City, Smith was considering his chances at playing at the NCAA Division I level when he was spotted by an OCU coach while participating in AAU competition.

“About two weeks before school started, one of the coaches, Austin Lochmann, saw me playing in an AAU tournament and he recruited me,” Smith said.NewOCU2

Lochmann saw Smith play well that day, but what he heard about the next day may have sealed it.

“Actually, when he saw me, I scored maybe 20 points in that game and it was kinda funny that I had a good game in the game he was there,” Smith said.  “And he called and we talked a little bit.

“But the next game, I ended up scoring 40 so then I got a call and he definitely wanted me to come and take a look.”

That kind of scoring was not uncommon for Smith, who was putting up an average of 33 points per game as a senior at Harvest Life.  The Kings also won a state title in the Oklahoma Christian Schools Athletic Association during Smith’s sophomore season.

And the connection happened at the right time to get Smith to the Stars’ campus.

“I was actually about two weeks away from walking on to OU’s men’s program.  And then I got a little bit of a scholarship here, so I wanted to take that scholarship and some playing time.”

And the amount of scholarship assistance has grown each year.  Although, taking a look at OCU was something that might have happened anyway.

“I took a tour and I was already considering the school for the business program, so it was just a nice fit.”

The business world is the direction that Smith is looking at for the next step in his life’s journey and can see himself rising high in that realm.

“I’d like to be in the finance field and eventually a CFO.  That would be a pretty sweet job, I think.”

But for now, Smith is still a student-athlete taking care of things and wrapping up his final year.

“I’m a typical senior right now.  I’m going through interviews right now and I’ve sent out my resumes and all that process trying to line some things up.  We’ll see how that pans out.”

And a few more games and wins would go a long way toward closing out his basketball career well.  One of his favorite moments as a player came in the SAC Tournament last season.

“Winning the conference tournament last year,” Smith said.  “We went into the tournament as the No. 7 seed and we put together a string of victories at the end of the season.

“That momentum just carried on with us into the NAIA tournament.”

The win in the SAC tournament earned an automatic berth for the Stars to the NAIA tournament.

Kaleb Smith fighting for the ball against John Brown on Jan. 9 at Abe Lemons Arena. By Jude Bryant.

Kaleb Smith fighting for the ball against John Brown on Jan. 9 at Abe Lemons Arena. By Jude Bryant.

But winning the league tournament meant having to go through an old rival against which Smith had little previous success.

“I’ve played Oklahoma Baptist more times than any other team in this conference.  My first two years we played them the regular two times in the season and both seasons we met them in the first round of the conference tournament both times.  And lost.

“Last year, we lost to them both times in the regular season and I was 0-8 against them, but as fate would have it, we met them in the first round again and we beat them.

“So I got my first win there and it was a pretty big deal for us.  And we kept rolling and we beat the No. 1 team in our conference and the No. 4 team in the nation in the final game and we got into the national tournament.  So that’s a pretty special memory.”

OCU defeated OBU, 64-60, in that first round game.  The Stars then beat No. 4 seed Roger State, 71-65, before dispatching top seeded John Brown, 77-72, to complete the Cinderella run.

Smith is pleased with his choice to be a Star.  His basketball career has advanced with each year.

“My freshman year, I got about 10-15 minutes a game.  But I’ve played in every single game in my four years here.  My second year, we got a new coach and a new system and I played probably around that same 10-15 minutes a game.

And then about halfway through my third year, I was moved to a starting position and I’ve been starting ever since then.”

Smith said that he has enjoyed playing for OCU coach Dionne Phelps, a coach he touts as having a pretty big basketball IQ, but would like to make a few more memories before all is said and done in 2014.

“It’s pretty sad for me and it’s hasn’t really sunk in yet that my career is coming to an end in the next couple of weeks.  I’m not sure what to do with my life when basketball is over.

“I probably won’t know what to do with myself.

“I’m going to live in the moment for the next two weeks and enjoy every ounce of it that I can.”