If you are Jerret Smith, you are use to having critics. You've heard the whispers that that grew in number after you committed to Michigan as a sophomore. You've heard the catcalls about how you weren't a player after you missed the free throws in the District playoff game against Belleville in 2004. All those things ringing in anyone's ear would be enough to affect them. When faced with such adversity, you can choose to do one of two things. You can let it beat you, or you use it to make you work harder to get better. Jerret Smith has done the latter.
When faced with the same opponent in the district playoff game this year, Smith's demeanor was noticeably different. The provocative jabs from his opponents in the pre-game were returned in kind. Every intimidating glance was reflected. At one point toward the end of the game, he was fouled and had to go to the line. The crowd held its collective breath and his opponents taunted him about his misses the previous year. After nailing the first he calmly turned to the trash-talkers and shot a little kiss. Then he went and nailed the second. Though he did not lead his team in scoring that night, he made his presence felt in the game. His impact as a leader and floor general was huge. Despite what the triumph may have meant to him personally, he maintained perspective.
"It was just an all week struggle," Smith said after the 76-71 victory. "Anree (Partee) went around all week and throughout the game saying 'Jerret who.' I love him like a brother off the court, but on the court he is my enemy. When players talk junk it just makes me go that much harder. This win means a lot, but what have we really accomplished? This is just the district. There are about 16 other teams that did the same thing. We are trying to make it to the Breslin and the championship game. It is a big win, but it's about getting to the Breslin."
Smith came back in the regionals the next week made a few clutch plays toward the end of the championship game, including a clutch three pointer that put his team up for good. Some of his worse critics gave him credit after the victory, but that was not enough to make Smith get complacent
"This whole summer, I put in time in the gym trying to do my thing…and it finally came to me," Smith said. "We have to keep on working harder than we did the day before. We still haven't won anything. I had to take that shot. I wanted to take that shot. We knew that we could get the lead. It was just a matter of time. Ypsilanti is a good team but we play team ball and we got it done as a team in the fourth quarter. To me this is still just a game. Everyone else has been doubting us and doubting me from game number one. I don't worry about that. I just go out there and try to help my team win."
Next up for Smith and the Eagles is a big time match-up with Deshawn Sims and the Detroit Pershing Doughboys. Pershing boasts two division 1 guards in the backcourt in Western Michigan recruit Andre Ricks (5-8, 170) and DePaul recruit Jabari Currie (6-3, 190). Smith outplayed Currie in a 73-57 blowout last season, and both of the Dougboy guards are looking for a little payback. Smith, though, will not get caught up in an individual game of 'lets see who is better.'
"They have good players, but we are talking team ball," Smith said of Pershing. "This is not individual ball. This is still a team game they have good players and we have good players too. We are looking forward to playing them."
At the end of the day, the only people Smith has to be accountable to are himself and his teammates…a lesson that really internalized after a tough junior season. "To me, this is just me playing," Smith said. "I could care less what people think. For the people that are doubting me... they can keep doubting me. I am going to work my butt off. They can't stop me. I can only stop myself. So for the people out there that are hating… let them keep on hating. That is just going to make me work even harder."
Romulus and Pershing will tip off their quarterfinal game 7pm at Ferndale High.