Kaylani Smartt (Shoshone-Paiute) to play college basketball in Arizona | FirstNationsFocus.com

Kaylani Smartt (Shoshone-Paiute) to play college basketball in Arizona

By Cassandra Walker | First Nation's Focus

OWYHEE, Nev. — Kaylani Smartt started playing basketball when she was four years old and has been passionate about the game ever since.

"It keeps me healthy, and (I like) the challenge of family competition," Smartt said in an in interview with First Nation's Focus. "What keeps me motivated now is knowing I will soon be playing at a higher level and that I am an inspiration to most kids, including my little brother, Hunter."

The Owyhee Combined School senior recently signed a letter of intent to play college basketball for Benedictine University at Mesa in Arizona, an NAIA school that competes in the California Pacific Conference.

The trick to balancing school with life and staying on top of her basketball game has been to keep the mindset of being a student first, athlete second, said Smartt, who hails from the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, home to the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.

"Throughout my high school career, I have learned how to balance my schoolwork on top of athletics and how to step out of my comfort zone, which will help me be able to seek help when needed in college," she said.

Athletically, she considers herself coachable and says she is courageous when pushed to her limit; she realizes the sacrifices it takes to get to the top and is already preparing herself to be a disciplined student who is responsible with her spare time.

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Overcoming adversity

The Owyhee Lady Braves star says donning her new Redhawks jersey at Benedictine — while also earning a college education — will be a huge accomplishment for her as a young, Native woman, especially considering the adversity she's overcome to achieve her goals and make her dreams a reality.

"It has a great deal of personal meaning to me because when I was a freshman, my varsity coach had told my teammates and I that we would never have the opportunity to play college basketball and how we weren't good enough to play at any type of higher level," she said. "Those words he said have made me work harder, pushed myself to be a better player, have shaped me into the player I am today, and made me stronger."

When asked what words of encouragement she shares to young girls who dream of higher education and hoops, Smartt said it's all about promoting a message that dreams do come true, and that if you always believe in yourself, work hard and set goals, you can conquer those goals.

"Don't get discouraged when you don't make varsity, or if you have a coach that doesn't believe in you; don't ever get discouraged because that will only make you stronger and push you to be a better player," she shared. "Cherish all the memories that you've made and will make while playing basketball."

More than just basketball

Smartt plans to study nutrition and dietetics in college and says she is most excited to meet new people, play the game she loves at a higher level, live on her own and experience bigger opportunities, all while getting her education.

Over the past several weeks, she has been immersing herself in the college education and athletic culture, visiting her new campus, training with the team and even having the opportunity to play in the AAU league with the Holiday Elite High School Girls Traveling Team out of Boise, Idaho.

"This experience allowed me to be exposed to a different kind of basketball game," she said. "Through this team and league, I experienced great structure (and) teamwork, along with being an individual. This experience pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me do things I thought I would never do."

The feelings she had with the elite traveling team were echoed as Smartt strolled along the campus of Benedictine University at Mesa back in January, feeling accepted and as though she had found the school where she belongs.

"I would like to thank my family, my team and coaches for putting so much work into me throughout the years," Smartt said. "They have taken me to numerous basketball camps, spending their weekends with me in the gym, and studying game film over and over to see how I Can improve. With that, I've learned to be coachable and courageous when pushed to my limits.

I am so blessed and will do my best to represent myself, my family and my community."

Cassandra Walker is a special assignments reporter for Sierra Nevada Media Group and a regular contributor to First Nation's Focus. She can be reached at cwalker@swiftcom.com.

A heck of a high school career

During her high school basketball career, Kaylani Smartt led Owyhee to consecutive Division 1A state basketball championships as a sophomore and a junior, according to the Elko Daily Free Press, in addition notching another 1st-Team All-League selection this season and falling one game shy of taking the Lady Braves back to the state tournament in a chase of three straight state titles.

This past season, she led the team in scoring and rebounding, ranking second in the league with 21.3 points and topping the 1A Northern-East with 17.4 boards per game, according to the Elko Daily Free Press.

Smartt finished second in the league with 1.3 blocks, third in the 1A Northern-East with 3.8 assists and seventh in steals with 2.7 thefts per outing.