KU Scholar Athlete of the Month – R.J. Smith



This Month’s Pick Is a Slam Dunk

School: Sayre School GRADE: 12 Sport: Basketball

Academics: R.J. has a 3.2 GPA, scored 24 on the ACT and is taking two A.P. classes this school year.


Parents: Vanessa & Robert




When R.J. Smith slams home another dunk – a regular occurrence at Sayre games – the Spartan bench erupts with excitement. Same too for the Sayre fans who jump out of their seats in celebration.

But don’t expect any reaction from R.J. The 6-foot-4 senior merely glides gracefully back on defense.

Mr. Nonchalance.

“Blocks are great but dunks are the most fun in basketball,” R.J.  said matter-of-factly. That’s him: even- keeled, said his father Robert.

“We’ll be out of our seats and he’ll just play,” he said. “The other team can’t read him. They never know what he’s thinking.”

R.J. is a mystery to opponents because he is a position-less player, meaning he can play any position. That’s because he is the classic late bloomer.

When he entered Sayre in ninth grade, he stood only 5-foot-8 and played guard on the freshman team. As a sophomore, he split time between the JV and varsity.

When he showed up for his junior year, he had sprouted to 6-foot-2 and became a front court player.

He averaged 13 points and six rebounds a game while playing center and both forward positions.

He earned his second straight most-improved award from Sayre and was All-City honorable mention for a record-setting Spartan team that went 23-10.

Along with recording the most wins in school history, Sayre defeated City teams Bryan Station, Tates Creek and Henry Clay.

R.J. had 17 points and 13 rebounds in the victory over Henry Clay, which came in the District tournament. Sayre then beat Madison Southern in the first round of the Regionals.

R.J.’s mom, Vanessa, helped him with his “hops.” She researched plyometrics and worked with him in the gym. Presto. He was dunking.

This season, he has grown again and stands 6-foot-4. He is averaging 19.5 points and seven rebounds a game and has matched his career high with a 29-point game.

He also records two blocks a game and is shooting nearly 33% on three-pointers.

College coaches are still trying to keep track of his development. He has received interest from Div I and Div. III schools.

Wherever he lands, academics will be no problem for R.J. He came to Sayre from the Quest program at Winburn Middle School. He carries a 3.2 GPA, has scored 24 on the ACT and is taking A.P. calculus and physics this year.

Said Robert: “He understands sacrifice and knows how to manage his time to get his work done.”