August 6, 2009 12:45:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Josh Carothers and Kendall Jackson have learned to trust Sammy Smith.
The Columbus High School boys basketball players believed their coach when he said he would do his best to find them a college where they could continue their careers.
The only thing Smith asked his players to do was to stay patient and to believe.
The wait ended Wednesday afternoon.
The patience Carothers and Jackson showed was rewarded as both players signed scholarships to play basketball at East Central Community College in Decatur.
"It really is special because they''re two of my really, really good people," Smith said. "The fact that it happened so late in the year shows they always worked hard and that they stayed patient. I told them patience is a virtue and that I knew it was going to happen.
"If they''re the 10th and 11th players on the squad, I know (that team''s) one through nine are going to be darned good on and off the court."
Carothers, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound guard, averaged 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 steals this past season for the Falcons (17-7).
Carothers said he first started to think about playing basketball in college when he was a junior in high school. He said it didn''t matter where he wound up as long as he had an opportunity. He said he also considered Bevill State C.C.
"I am not going to let anybody get the best of me," Carothers said. "I am going to continue to work hard."
Carothers said it was disappointing not to receive many looks or offers from colleges. He said he felt overlooked but listened to Smith and continued to work on his game and believe there was a chance for him somewhere.
Smith felt the same way because he watched Carothers get after it every day in practice.
"Never in my entire life have I had a kid who played with so much heart and intensity," Smith said. "He gave his all in practice every second. There wasn''t a time when he didn''t give his all."
It took time, but Carothers believes playing in Class 5A against some of the state''s toughest competition has prepared him to take his game to the next level.
"I wouldn''t say it is a dream come true until I get to a higher level, but it is a good feeling," Carothers said.
Jackson, a 6-1 1/2, 208-pound guard, averaged 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals as a junior. Jackson''s junior season actually was his senior year of athletic eligibility
He used the past year to earn the final credits needed in two subjects to graduate from Columbus High.
Not only did Jackson overcome academic obstacles to earn his scholarship, but he also had put a fractured tibia in his left leg behind him.
"I stayed with it, stayed with the program, and worked hard," Jackson said. "It was difficult. I have had some ups and some downs, but I still had to work hard."
Jackson suffered the injury last September and was out for two months. He spent the next month working through rehabilitation.
Smith said Jackson''s weight ballooned from under 200 pounds to 230 pounds after the injury. He said it wasn''t until Jackson refocused himself, started to eat better, and listened to encouragement from friends and family that he started to get back into playing shape.
"He finally realized he had to cut back and do the things coach Smith was telling him he had to do," Smith said.
Smith said Jackson was "solid" at point guard as a junior. He said Jackson overcame a lot considering many people forgot about him because he wasn''t on the court.
"For him to go to East Central is a great steal (for them)," Smith said.
Jackson considers it "a blessing" to get the opportunity to attend ECCC. He admitted he doubted he would get an opportunity and that he started to go downhill in May because he didn''t know if he would get an opportunity.
But Wednesday''s signings showed Carothers and Jackson that their coach had their back all along.
"He is the kind of coach who wants you to give back to basketball," Jackson said of Smith. "He is a very good coach, and it feels good to have a coach who really cares about his players."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.