By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The letters M and G have become a vital part of the Brighton Lady Cardinal Basketball program.
Senior MG Smith has emerged into a solid post player for Head Coach David Wampler’s team the past three years. But there was a stretch when a trio of other letters put Smith’s progression in jeopardy — ACL.
Losing her junior campaign on the court to a knee injury, Smith used the time off the hardwood to improve her strength, skills and spirit.
All the dedication paid off on Jan. 14 in the Brighton Gymnasium Lobby when Smith signed her national letter of intent to play basketball for the Freed-Hardeman University Lady Lions.
“We are super excited not only because of her talent and the hard work she’s going to bring to the court, also her personality and leadership and character,” FHU Assistant Coach Brittany Cavender said. “The way she carries herself and with her family, we can tell she’s going to be a good one on and off the court.
“She should expect to continue to work hard,” she continued. “It’s something we already know she’s good at. We’re hoping she can come in and compete with our forwards to compete for minutes next year.”
Cavendar made the trip to Brighton to represent the unbeaten Lady Lions. At the time Smith signed her letter of intent with parents Pam and John by her side, FHU was 17-0 under Head Coach Dale Neal.
Neal has won more than 670 games in his career with a .792 winning percentage with the Lady Lions.
“Freed-Hardeman is a Christian private school,” John Smith said. “We looked at several schools and had a few offers from some other schools. Culture was a big part of her decision. She wanted to be in a good Christian culture, at a good school as well they are very good at basketball winning the NAIA championship last year. They’re currently ranked No. 1 in the country for NAIA schools.”
While the Lady Lions are the queens of the American Midwest Conference and NAIA, Smith and the Lady Cardinals were finding their footing in District 13-3A.
Under Wampler Brighton began to turn the corner toward success when tragedy struck Smith during a field trip prior to her junior season.
“Actually I didn’t know I had torn it yet,” MG recalled. “I knew I had some type of damage because that night it was really cold. And my leg was stiff, so we went to get it checked out. They told me I had a torn ACL and I had surgery the following Friday.
“I had my doubts,” she acknowledged. “But I realized I had a goal I wanted to achieve. I wanted to play college basketball. So I just kept with it and I did it. I didn’t let up. I just kept going and I prayed about it.”
Brighton was having some success early in the 2017-18 season when they began to feel the absence of Smith in the paint. The Lady Cardinals faded away.
Fast forward to this season, Brighton is nearing 20 wins overall and is a major player in District 13-3A. Wampler said FHU has a certified hard worker with Smith.
“As a sophomore she was productive,” he recalled. “I was really going to count on her a lot last year but she had the ACL injury. She worked extremely hard to get back. She’s come back and has done really, really well.
“She’s done the things we’ve asked her to do like get more physical,” Wampler added. “And she’s done that by getting stronger through rehabbing the knee. They’re getting a hard worker and somebody who is going to take coaching. She will do what she has to do everyday to find a way to get on the floor.”
MG’s hard work earned her the historic designation of being the first Lady Cardinal Basketball player to sign to a four-year school straight out of the program.
“I’ve been real fortunate having four seniors before now,” Wampler noted. “All four are playing colliegely at something. I think part of the work ethic they get from basketball has something to do with that. Lindsey (Morrisette) is on the row team. Aubree (Jones) is playing golf. Onyx (Magno) is running track and Kailee (Hunt) is playing softball.
“Now I’ve got four in basketball this year and all four are going to sign at something,” he continued. “Right now Haley (Simpson) has already signed in softball. T. Brown is probably going to get offered in basketball in the next couple of weeks. And La’Rrie (King) will get an offer in tennis. It just says something about your kids that they work hard on and off the court to do what is right.”
John said his daughter grew tremendously as a Christian off the court throughout 2018. Alongside coach Scott Ray, John guided MG on the court since the age of 4.
“She had to work very hard because it has always been her ambition and goal to continue her basketball career in college,” John said. “She tore her ACL last year. It was really devastating. I think it actually made her walk stronger with Christ as well helping her lean on Him heavily to get back on the court.
“She has loved the game,” he added. “She’s played multiple sports. She’s a good athlete but basketball has always been her favorite. A lot of players quit when that happens if they’re in their junior or senior year. They give up. But it made her just work that much harder to pursue her goal.”
Smith acknowledge she had a tough decision during her rehabilitation. Her family and new family served as inspiration.
“(My teammates) are wonderful and they’re my family,” she said. “That’s all I ever wanted here — a family. I love them a lot and I’m going to miss them a lot.
“My Dad has coached me ever since I was 4,” MG added. “He’s been hard on me and stuff. He was there for me. My Mom is the one who picks me up and motivates me. So they work good together. I am very thankful for them.”
The Lady Lions are happy Smith kept fighting to get back and now they want her to reach the next level in life.
“A huge thing for us is character,” Cavender said. “If we can help people get closer to God and closer to becoming a person ready to go into the real world, we know she already comes in with a stable foundation. We just want to help build her up even more. Everything we have to offer at Freed is really exciting.”
Smith said overcoming the ACL, she now has a chance to make the letters M and G mean something special to FHU.
“I got more goals I’ve got to achieve,” she concluded. I have to keep pushing and keep going. I have goals to achieve to them. I always joke around and say ‘My baller name is MG.’ That’s what I am known for.”