Back at the start of December, Zhaire Smith wasn’t sure if he would ever hear from a major Division I college.
Smith, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound shooting guard at Garland Lakeview Centennial High School, then saw everything change after turning in some of his best games against top competition at the Whataburger Tournament in Corpus Christi.
Against Austin Westlake, Smith netted 31 points as the Patriots advanced to the championship game. Lakeview Centennial ultimately lost the game, but Smith — who averaged 21 points per contest in the tournament — was named to the all-tournament squad along with teammate Brendan Brooks.
“He just had several spectacular games in a row during the Whataburger Tournament and schools started to take notice,” Lakeview Centennial head coach JT Locklear said. “Things started to get real busy for him, but he took it in stride. And I’d say it made him more focused and play better.”
From that point forward, Smith began to hear from several major college programs — including Texas, Kansas State, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech and more.
Smith, a four-star rated Class of 2017 prospect by 247Sports, is currently on an official visit in Lubbock. He’s arrived Thursday night and is expected to take in a Texas Tech-Baylor baseball game while also checking out the Red Raiders spring game Saturday.
“We actually took an unofficial earlier when they hosted Kansas,” Locklear said. “He said seeing that atmosphere and student section really changed his opinion on Texas Tech. He really liked it and they became a serious contender. … In fact, Texas Tech was the first team to start recruiting him right after the Christmas Tournament. Coach (Chris) Ogden came to watch him play and realized he had a special ability.”
Locklear feels like Texas Tech, which recently graduated a Patriots alum in Toddrick Gotcher who was recruited by Chris Beard, could enjoy the talents of Smith. The Red Raiders offered Smith back on Jan. 17.
In fact, Locklear compares Zhaire Smith’s talent to current Texas Tech superstar Zach Smith because of their ability to “jump higher than most players” and “make those unbelievable plays that you don’t see often.”
“He’s got that wow factor,” Locklear said, alluding to how Zhaire Smith is like Zach Smith. “Both have unbelievable athleticism and make some rim-rattling dunks. I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve coached against Zach Smith when he was at Plano East and came out with a victory. But he had a dunk in that game where I think the rim is still shaking.”
In many ways, Zhaire Smith has that same type of explosion when he jumps into the air in an attempt to slam the ball into the basket. The Patriots senior made it a habit throughout the season and even made his coach smile a couple of times.
“Sometimes I forget I’m his coach and not a fan,” Locklear said, chuckling. “I’m just lucky to have coached him the last few years.”
Zhaire Smith recently visited Texas, which is one of 20 total schools to offer the 13th-best shooting guard in the state. In an interview with Horns247, Smith stated that he liked head coach Shaka Smart but was well aware of the fact the Longhorns struggled last season.
“I see that they’re young,” Smith told Horns247 back on March 14. “They just need to move this thing on, play together and build. They will probably be good in the next few years.”
For now, Zhaire Smith — who averaged 20.1 points and 6.6 rebounds as a senior, is expected to check out Texas Tech and is looking to visit Georgia Tech in the near future.
“He’s always said he wants to see all of his options, but he really liked Texas Tech after that Kansas game,” Locklear said.