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|Shenneika Smith's choice to stay close to home gives St. John's one of the nation's top classes.|
Wednesday was supposed to be one of those memorable days in the young life of Shenneika Smith. The girl's basketball star from Brooklyn, N.Y., made a major decision that should bring equal parts relief and celebration. But the joy is obscured by a development that will cloud her future in the short run.
Weighted by the news that she likely has a stress fracture and additional damage in her left foot, Smith, the No. 7 prospect in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, elected to attend St. John's just in time to validate a National Letter of Intent on the last day of the early signing period.
"I'm happy I made a decision," said Smith, calling from Columbus, Ohio, where she was watching friends and former teammates as Ohio State took on Syracuse. "But I didn't want my last year (in high school) to be like this. I am really upset."
Smith chose St. John's over Kentucky, though Marshall and Syracuse also were in the mix at the end. She said the choice between staying home and going away was an extreme difficult one and the extra time she spent on the decision gave her clarity.
The premier sharpshooter in her class, Smith lifts what already was a very good St. John's class into the country's upper echelon. The 6-foot-1 guard joins a group of other highly regarded prospects from the New York area, giving coach Kim Barnes Arico local flavor to a program on the rise. Guard Amanda Burakoski of Queens, No. 66 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred; post Jennifer Blanding of Brooklyn; guard Eugenia McPherson of North Babylon, and point guard Nadirah McKenith of Newark, N.J., preceded Smith in pledging to the Red Storm.
The opportunity to play a significant role in leading a local school to prominence was a major attraction, Smith said.
"I really like that a lot," she said. "Most of the other schools on my list already have a history. Be able to play in front of my family and friends made the decision even easier."
The question now is whether the next time Smith plays locally will be on the high-school or college level.
Smith complained off and on about the pain in her left foot during the summer. After falling to the floor several times during last month's championship game of the Nike Rose Classic, a major fall league in the area, she told Apache Paschall, her coach at St. Michael Academy, that the pain was so great when she planted the foot, she had to drop to the floor. An initial examination revealed a stress fracture and possible ligament damage, but Paschall has arranged for a second opinion later this week.
"Toward the end of the summer, it was hurting a lot, but she never told me how bad," said Paschall, who also coached Smith with the Exodus club team. "She didn't think it was serious."
Prognosis for stress fractures range from a month to two months. Smith is a long, confident and shifty scorer and the "it" factor on a St. Michael team ranked No. 3 nationally in the preseason ESPN RISE Fab 50. Paschall's team has an ambitious schedule mined with other nationally ranked teams, beginning with No. 9 Oak Hill next month.
Whether Smith would return for the end of St. Michael's season, even if she could, is not a given. She's hoping another doctor gives a different diagnosis.
"I'm praying; I want to play," Smith said. "It's hard not playing. Once I'm through rehabbing, I will talk with everyone. I don't know if I want to take a risk and get hurt again, or if I should just wait until college. I don't want to push it. I want to start next season in the Big East."
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.