FSU student guides Leon High team

FSU student Jamilah Smith (center) coaches the Leon High School Girls' Junior Varsity Basketball team while also balancing school.
Photo Submitted by Joshua Bonsell.

It was Jan. 4th on a Friday evening at MaClay Preparatory High School; there was one minute and 15 seconds remaining on the clock before the end of regulation, and the score was 40 to 39.

Leon High School’s junior varsity girls’ basketball team was down five points against Episcopal High.

The Leon players knew the difference between advancing to the next round of the tournament and a rocky mid-season record was cemented within the few seconds remaining of the game.

Besides the sound of squeaking athletic sneakers on the gym floor, the only thing anybody could hear was the voice of Coach Jamilah Smith or “Coach Jay” as she yelled different numbers and made hand gestures to signal certain plays for her players on the court.

Unfortunately, the final score was 44 to 39, and Leon lost the exhibition.

“It was a good game, we played our hardest,” Smith said. However, the night was not over for yet for her just yet. After the game, Smith needed to mentally prepare herself for the following school week.

Smith is a senior finance major at Florida State University who played basketball for four years while attending Lincoln High School.

Her senior year was the last year she thought she would ever become associated with basketball besides being a fan or spectator. However, upon graduating from Lincoln High in 2015, she attended the University of South Florida and an opportunity came.

“Coaching wasn't something I’ve always wanted to pursue,” Smith recalled. “My freshman year at USF, I saw a flyer wanting volunteer coaches for basketball and I called the number, went through the background check and there I was coaching a five year old league team.”

Eventually, Tampa became too much of a distance for the young coach. She returned home to Tallahassee and decided to finish up her undergraduate education at Florida State. Smith did not only return to become closer to her family, she came back willingly, and unaware she would shape the very community that she grew up in.

“I called Bruce Daniels, my old coach and head coach of the girl’s basketball team at Leon, to ask if he needed any help for the upcoming season.” she continued. “My first year I kind of just observed and took mental notes of Bruce and everything it took to run a program. The students returned for school, and then I kind of just fell into the junior varsity head coaching role.”

Currently on her second season with the team, Smith has solidified her prominence as a part of the Leon High girl junior varsity team.

Between work, practices, schools and scheduled games Smith is tired but still enthusiastic.

“It does not leave much room for studying. About one night a week I will pull an all-nighter and do all of my homework and study,” Smith explained. “I wouldn't say this is the best method, but it works for me,” she says.

Despite all of this, Smith understands the impact she has had while coaching the team. This impact has been seen by head coach Bruce Daniels. Daniels loved the idea when Smith initially spoke to him about the coaching position.

“Jamilah has done a terrific job as my assistant and has done a nice job serving as the Head junior varsity coach,” Daniels stated. “I have no regrets having her on staff.”

Smith’s mother, Cynthia Smith was initially unaware of her daughter’s notions to become a coach. She hoped that Smith continues to follow her passion.

“I love what she is doing, I just want her to be successful in whatever she sets out to be,” Smith expressed.

Overall, Smith said that her favorite part of coaching is using the game of basketball to make a connection to life. She believes that mental toughness, confidence and commitment will not only help them on the court but as young adults after graduating high school as well.

Upon her undergraduate graduation, Smith sees herself becoming a graduate assistant for a college team. Smith noted if her decisions lead her to fulfill a role in corporate America, even then she would seek opportunity to volunteer at a high school.