Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Written by Alyssa Ward
Jada Smith is a basketball player who has spent her college career at Union University in Jackson, TN. Her freshman season (2015-2016), she was named GSC Freshman of the week three times as well as to the GSC All-Tournament Team. Her sophomore year she was named to the Preseason All-GSC Team, GSC Honor Roll, as well as named GSC Player of the Week once and TSWA Player of the Week twice. In 2017-2018 season, she was a medical redshirt. In the 2018-2019 season, she passed 1000 career points and was named to the First Team All-GSC, GSC All-Tournament Team, D2CCA All-Region Second Team, GSC All-Academic Team, and GSC Honor Roll. In the 2019-2020 season, she passed the 500 rebounds, 500 assists, and 1,500-point milestones. She led the GSC in assists (ranked 8th in NCAA D2), and assists/turnover ratio (ranked 9th in NCAA D2). She was named GSC Player of the Week twice, first Team All-GSC, GSC All-Tournament Team, GSC Tournament MVP, first team D2CCA All-South Region, WBCA All-Region, WBCA First Team All-American, and GSC All-Academic Team. She also led her team to an NCAA tournament appearance and was named GSC Player of the Year and a GSC Commissioner’s Trophy Finalist.
How has basketball shaped your life outside of the court?
Basketball has been in my life since the womb. Being the youngest of 5 basketball players who were all All-Americans in college and went on the play professionally, a life of basketball was normal to me. All of the coaches I had in my life were challenging in many different ways. I am thankful for each coach that I had because they all prepared me to be successful whether it was a good or bad experience. For a majority of my life, basketball was where I found my identity. It wasn’t until my redshirt year in college, when basketball was taken away from me for the year due to a freak whitewater rafting accident that I realized basketball is not who I am but only something I do. I was able to gain a whole new perspective on life and people. Looking back, I am thankful that injury happened because it made me a better basketball player and person. I never took the game for granted after that – it truly changed me. Along with the recovery of that difficult injury, a lifetime of basketball made me learn to fight through adversity more than I ever could have imagined. People who do not see the value in sports think there is no purpose in what we do. For those who think sports are a waste of time, they are missing out on a great opportunity to make an impact. For the past decade, I have had the honor of coaching/training the youth in basketball and I use all of my experience as a player to help people reach their goals. No matter what level you play any sport at, you can take away a lifetime of memories and lessons.
Basketball has transformed me into a better leader, learner, and servant.
As I got older, if I did not constantly improve my game on a daily basis, there is no way I would have made it this far in my career.
I am not sure what the future holds for me, but because of basketball, I am confident that I can accomplish anything that I work for. I am forever thankful for the game of basketball and always want to be a part of it.
How have you been judged on your appearance rather than your ability?
Being an athlete is not all glitz and glamour like people assume. There are a lot of hardships that come along with the life of an athlete. One of those many hardships are stereotypes. I have been a victim of both good and bad stereotypes. A lot of people see my physique and skin color and automatically assume that I am this amazing/talented athlete who has no problems in life. Some would take this as a compliment, but I do not like being assumed that I am something before someone even knows me.
A bad experience I have had was being accused of causing damages to a school gym because I was one of the brown-skinned basketball players. I had no involvement in the situation and didn’t even know it occurred but because of the description, I was automatically interrogated.
It ended up being non-athletes of various skin colors who caused the damage. My life has constantly been assumed because of my skin color and basketball abilities. Many people are shocked when they find out interesting things about me because they “wouldn’t expect” someone like me to like or do certain things. In college, I was often told my skin complexion was “fascinating” and it complemented my basketball abilities. I still question whether that was supposed to be a compliment or not.
A big reason many people of color are so “loved” is because of how good they are at sports. I find it very inhumane. I always wonder how many people would really “love” me if I didn’t play basketball. If I was just a young lady with a “fascinating” skin tone, would people try to get to know me better or still assume I’m something that I’m not?
These incidents don’t seem like a big deal to some, but they have a major impact on me.
How do you personally “Defend Rights” when it comes to gender equality in sports?
As a woman, I believe "Defending Rights" for gender equality in sports means putting your heart and soul into the game along with your values as a human being. Every athlete makes sacrifices, every athlete sheds sweat, every athlete competes. It is not only men or only women who do those things but anyone who invests their lives as an athlete.
I believe every voice deserves to be heard and valued. Women and men need to continue to be vocal on gender equality in sports because every athlete who works hard in their craft should be appreciated.
Every sport and every player is different but one thing all athletes share is dedication and sacrifice. Athletes who show passionate dedication are the ones who make the biggest impact and I am not just talking about the famous ones. Basketball is a sport that requires mental and physical conditioning as well as understanding the fundamentals/skills of the game.
The rules of basketball are the same for men and women but due to the muscular make up of men, the game can come off as more “exciting” than the women’s game. Basketball fans, especially those who are not very knowledgeable of the game, only love basketball because of the dunks. Not every man, but a strong majority, who plays basketball can boast the highflying dunks that get the crowd going. Even though it has been seen before, women dunking is a rare sight. This is a big reason why women’s basketball has a much lower attendance rate than men’s basketball. There are many arguments that even though the men’s game is faster, women play more skilled and team basketball which gives it an entertaining competitive nature. I see basketball as a beautiful art form that requires a group of individuals to come together as one to complete a goal, and dunking is not required for that to be true.
I have proven to many guys before that just because I cannot dunk on a regulation size goal, I can still beat them one on one or five on five. That’s something that always makes me laugh because people fail to realize there is are a multitude of ways to score the basketball. You can score by shooting layups, floaters, jump shots and more, but since people see dunking as a cool way of scoring, they think that’s the only way basketball can be played.
I have honestly never cared how many people came to watch me play, even though it was pretty cool that once I got to college, the crowds were pretty big. I play for my teammates and the love of the game. That is the beauty of basketball and any sport. You work day and night to make your dreams come true. I train with no one watching so playing a game with no one watching or a million people watching makes no difference to me because of how locked in I am to my craft.
When people don’t respect women’s basketball, it just motivates me to work harder and prove them wrong. No need to waste time arguing on it, just show them. A lot of those women’s basketball haters can’t make a shot to save their lives and want to take it out on women because they never made the team at tryouts.
I never make time to worry about doubters because there are much more important things to focus on in the world and in sports. Even though it is still seen below men’s basketball by most people, it is nice to see women’s basketball getting more love as time goes on and I hope people can understand the work women put in and realize that it is worth watching.