• Val T.

Smith works his way onto Zebra varsity

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

When the Rochester boys basketball team beat Rensselaer 60-52 in two overtimes to win their Class 2A sectional title in 2020, Aidan Smith was there.

He didn’t play in the game or watch it from the bench. He watched it from the student section.

Aidan Smith

“I think I lost my voice,” the smiling Smith remembered from that night.

One year later, he was on the court, accepting the championship trophy with his teammates after the Zebras beat Lewis Cass 53-50 to win the Class 2A, Sectional 37 title at Delphi.

He was no bystander this time. After a summer of hard work, Smith has become a key contributor to a sectional championship team.

“It’s great,” Smith said. “It’s a big group of guys, and we like putting in the work every day and having fun with each other. Everyone enjoys it. It’s a great experience.”

Smith had played for the C and JV teams last year. Watching the Zebras win a sectional motivated him further to succeed.

“I was talking to them about it, and they said the floor was shaking for them with all the noise,” Smith said of the 2020 sectional. “It was just one of those things where you’re like, ‘Gosh, I want to be out there with them. I want to do something like that.’”

So the man they call “Dan” had a plan.

“I would see how hard they work in practice and I would talk to some of them and ask them what they did over the summer and a lot of them actually helped me with what I needed to do to improve,” Smith said.

He played with older teammates like Grant McCarter, Kyle Reinartz and Blake Hughes in pick-up games – at City Park, at Fansler Park, in players’ driveways.

He also traveled out of town to play. He plays for the Indiana Faith AAU team, which is based out of Greenfield.

That meant long drives for practices, so it wasn’t uncommon for him to stay overnight with his sister Kaelee at her house.

With Kaelee came good athletic genes.

Kaelee Smith is a 2014 grad who played basketball and softball for the Lady Zs. Leighnee Smith, another of Aidan’s sisters, graduated in 2012 and played basketball and was the ace pitcher on RHS’ regional championship softball team in 2012. His cousin, Molly (McKinney) Wardell, is a 2009 RHS grad who played volleyball and basketball.

“There were some days where I wasn’t hitting a lot of shots, but you just got to keep the mindset that … you’ve got to work for it,” Smith said. “I worked on shooting a lot because I’d say that was my weakness.”

When he came back for open gyms in the fall, he said his teammates and coaches were encouraging. And once the season started, he contributed immediately.

“I didn’t know all of them before the season,” Smith said. “I probably knew Grant and Kyle, but I’ve become really close with all of them.”

Though he has not exceeded the eight points he scored against Culver in the season opener on Nov. 25, he has gained a reputation as a top defender.

In a game against Whitko on Jan. 8, coach Rob Malchow put Smith in the starting lineup. His job was to guard Whitko all-TRC guard Brett Sickafoose.

Sickafoose, who averaged 18 points per game this season, scored only seven that night, tying a season low.

Meanwhile, Smith might be eternally connected with his fellow sophomore teammate Tarick McGlothin. McGlothin is “Rick” to Aidan’s “Dan,” and they have filled the void after the graduation of seniors Bryce Abbott, Nick Allen, Isaiah Jackson, Kalvary Lingenfelter, Trey Stesiak, Elijah Yarber.

“We’ve been really good friends since I can remember,” Smith said. “We’ve played a lot of basketball together. I use to play baseball with him a lot.”

Smith was asked if he was surprised that McGlothin scored 19 points against Lewis Cass in the sectional final.

“For how hard he’s worked, it’s expected from what I’ve seen,” Smith said.

Has he always played like that?

“He’s always played like that,” a smiling Smith said. “I think he’s been saving it for a sectional game.”

Now comes a regional that has seemingly been a year in the making after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of last year’s regional.

Rochester will play Rossville at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday in a semifinal at Lapel. If they win, they will play against either Blackford or Wapahani at 8 p.m. in the final.

One thing is for certain. Smith’s days in the student section are likely over.

“The job’s not finished,” Smith said. “We want more. We definitely think we can do it. I don’t want it to be the seniors’ last game on Saturday.”

Smith is the son of Tom and Angie Smith of Rochester.


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