Two years ago, in a junior game against Oak Bay, Shadynn Smid of the Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds took flight for his first in-game slam dunk.
“I was shocked to actually get high enough to hang on the rim and put [the ball] in. It felt like I jumped through the roof,” recalls Smid, who measured 6 feet 2 inches at the time.
The 17-year-old senior has since sprouted to 6-foot-6, and his dunking prowess and all-around skills are attracting a lot of attention from coaches at universities and prep schools who want him to play for their teams next year. At least one university has told Smid he has until the end of this week to accept their offer.
It’s a lot to process at once for a player relatively new to basketball who until recently had been flying under the radar. While he’s fearless on the court, Smid says “it’s scary” trying to make the biggest decision of his life.
By the time they are in Grade 12, most high school basketball stars are well-known. They have been scouted, ranked and heavily recruited for years, often since middle school, and not just in the States — the youth basketball scene in Canada has scaled up significantly in recent years.
That is not the case for Smid, who didn’t play on his first basketball team until Grade 8 at Quamichan School. He has only played three seasons of organized basketball, having lost his entire Grade 9 season to a broken foot and Grade 11 to COVID-19.
Cowichan Secondary coach Sandeep Heer says it’s impressive how good Smid is given his limited experience. When Smid was in Grade 10, he played on both the junior and senior teams for the Thunderbirds. He led the junior team in scoring and was the second-leading scorer on the senior team.
For his senior year, Smid literally soared, averaging five to six dunks a game, which Heer says “is kind of unheard of.” He also averaged 33 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks per game, leading the team in each category.
The highlight of the season came on February 19, 2022, when Smid scored 52 points in a key 86-83 win over Dover Bay in the North Island tournament. The victory sent the Thunderbirds to the Island 4A boys basketball championship tournament, where the team finished fifth and Smid was named second-team all-star.
Coach Heer isn’t sure if Smid’s 52 points set the school’s single-game scoring record, but says it “would be in the top couple of all-time high scorers.”
“As far as he’s come to this stage, it’s pretty remarkable in such a short period of time,” Heer says of Smid. “So I think he’s got a lot of growth left in terms of his skills.”
Basketball in his DNA
It’s ironic that Smid is so new to basketball given that the sport was his mother’s ticket out of poverty.
Elena Cruz says that, growing up in the Philippines, her family was too poor to send her to university. She says she had no basketball experience but because she was tall, she tried out for the Polytechnic University of the Philippines basketball team and earned a scholarship as the tallest player on the team.
“When I tried out for the team it was out of desperation,” Cruz recalls. “I was just looking for a way to help myself. I got lucky, I guess.”
Cruz, who moved to Canada in 1987 after completing university, says her son fell in love with soccer at an early age. Because of that, she never tried to push him to play basketball. Smid trained in the Vancouver Whitecaps Island Academy for several years and played in the Vancouver Island Premier League.
He also excelled at track and field, like his father Steve Smid who also did sprints, high jump and long jump as a teen, Cruz says.
But Cruz recalls her excitement when her son finally took up basketball.
“‘Well, okay!’ I was so happy.” she says. She prayed that he would have a big growth spurt, which he eventually did.
Looking to the future
Smid says when he started playing basketball in Grade 7 on the playground at École Mount Prevost Elementary he “kind of sucked” because he wasn’t very tall and didn’t have great hand-eye coordination. But he soon started having a lot of fun on the court. He eventually stopped playing competitive youth soccer in 2019 to devote himself to his new favourite sport.
“I just progressed super fast in basketball and I knew I had a future in it,” Smith explains. “I definitely wish I had started earlier. I was just too much in love with soccer, I guess.“
Coach Heer says that during his Grade 11 year, lost to COVID, Smid was at a disadvantage compared to elite players from cities like Victoria who had more playing opportunities to develop and raise their profile despite the pandemic. Still, Smid spent the year dedicating himself to improving and, for the first time, started dreaming about a professional basketball career, he says.
“All I wanted to do was play instead of just training,” he says. “I started to dunk a lot. I started to grow. I hit the weight room. That’s when I started to improve the most.”
All that effort translated into a stellar Grade 12 season for Smid. He says he was recently speaking with a coach at GP Vanier in Courtenay and learned “that a bunch of coaches are asking him about me.”
“I don’t even know how my name got out there,” Smid says.
In an era where high school players can build very large social media followings, Smid posts game highlights on TikTok along with a highlight reel on Instagram. He is also seeing himself featured in posts by other people.
“There’s a bunch of random videos about me. It’s so weird,” he says. One of them refers to him as a “hidden gem,” Smid says.
It’s easy to identify Smid in video clips not just because of his size and skill, but also his hairstyle. He grew a ponytail as a young kid to be like his father and kept it for its distinctive look, although on the soccer pitch and up through Grade 10 basketball he would often get mistaken for a girl. These days he keeps his long hair in braids, with a fade, and has no plans to cut it.
The clock is ticking
Smid plans to study sports and business management in university. But where and when he’ll do that is still very much in the air.
The University of Victoria, Vancouver Island University, Trinity Western, UBC-Okanagan and Thompson Rivers University as well as De La Salle University in the Philippines have expressed interest, he says. He has also been approached by prep schools in Alberta and Ontario as well as in the States to do an extra year of high school.
Much of the interest has come in the past month, leaving minimal time for Smid and his family to weigh his options.
“It would have been ideal to have a Grade 11 team because then it would have all been happening back then,” Smid says. “This is when I have to commit.”
Many of the offers are for a position on the team, and some come with a partial scholarship — but none provide a full scholarship. Smid says one university that he likes told him they would only hold a slot for him until Friday, March 11.
Smid, however, is hoping at least one of the schools will offer him a full scholarship. “I want to wait for that but don’t have much more time. That’s the hard part,” he says.
Coach Heer is confident things will work out for Smid wherever he goes.
“He’s got a bright future if he continues working hard and having that drive to play at the next level,” Heer says. “I’m excited to see where he goes and how things end up for him.”
Smid has one more big game coming up this year. He and Thunderbirds teammate Ethyn Williams-Crawford were selected to play in the Island all-star game on April 9 in Saanich. By then, Smid should know his plans for next year, and be on his way to being an unhidden gem.
“I have to choose the right school, and the right team, right coach,” he says. [end]