The guy who plays light out just about every night also is the guy who wants to keep the lights on in the school’s gymnasium.
“It doesn’t matter, win or lose,” Sample said. “Ja’Vonte is in the gym working to get better. I’ll say, ‘Why don’t you go home and rest.’ But no, he’ll stay and work on his shot or on something else. He’s driven that way.”
That drive has helped Smart do something no other sophomore has done – win the Farm Bureau/Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Mr. Basketball award.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Smart also is the first player from Scotlandville to win the award selected by a panel of sportswriters from across the state.
Smart led the Hornets to a 34-3 record with averages of 22.4 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds a game. He was previously voted Gatorade’s Louisiana Player of the Year.
“Sometimes I don’t know how to express myself,” Smart said with a shy smile. “I don’t like coming across as cocky. I’ve always felt that when you do something good you shouldn’t brag about.
“Success and awards are nice and I’m blessed to have them. I don’t get the big head. When you do that, I think you stop getting better. You should always have fun playing the game. But to get better, you’ve got to work.”
Some of the improvements in Smart’s game came naturally. He grew over an inch and put on between 15 and 20 pounds. The nation’s top point guard prospect for 2018 has always been able to find open teammates. He unveiled an improved outside shooting touch as a sophomore.
“His vision on the court is incredible and he’s got a high basketball IQ,” Sample said. “Ja’Vonte sees and knows where his teammates are and he loves to pass them the ball and make them better.
“Well, he put in the time and his shot has really improved. He knows even better now when to make plays.”
Another Baton Rouge area coach, Madison Prep’s Jeff Jones, offers another analogy.
“When he was a freshman last year, I thought Ja’Vonte played like a senior or a guy in his first year of college,” Jones said. “This year I thought he played like a college sophomore. The game came so easily to him.
“One night he might score 50 points and the next he could have 20 assists. The beauty of it is he doesn’t care one way or another. I’ve known Ja’Vonte since he was eight or nine. He’s always been very humble and hard-working. He’s consistent.”
Given his work ethic, it’s only natural for Smart to admire another tireless worker, suxh as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Asked who his biggest influences are, Smart lists his mother, Kevin Durant and Sample.
In turn, Sample likes to point out that Smart carries a 3.1 grade-point average in Scotlandville’s engineering magnet program.
Asked to sum up Smart is just a few words, Sample recounts Smart’s accomplishments and work ethic. Then it comes to him.
“He’s beyond his years in the way he works and understands things,” Sample said. “He gets it.”
And now Smart gets the LSWA’s top award too.