DeMarley Smith: Bronx Native Shows Resiliency That Translates Into Scholarship at Virginia Union

Photo courtesy of Cheick Fofana.

By David Cordova

In a city such as New York, and even in a league such as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL for short), there are plenty of underrated gems that are dying to be noticed for their skills, hoping to one day land a collegiate scholarship.

For a kid such as DeMarley Smith, being noticed and working hard were two things that aided in his resilient nature. The 6-foot guard from the Parkchester section of the Bronx had a very successful senior year at Eagle Academy, averaging 18 points and three assists per game in the PSAL Bronx “AA” Division.

Smith shoots a three-pointer from deep. (Photo courtesy of DeMarley Smith)

But for him, the road hasn’t always been easy. His basketball journey has been one that has dealt with him toiling in obscurity in the CHSAA for three years before his breakout season at Eagle.

His motivation for playing the game of basketball: “All the doubters. All of the hype around other players, I just like the competition. I got a drive, I’m determined to show people what I can do,” says Smith.

Being from a place such as the Bronx, also has aided in his toughness. “It’s tough. Everywhere, you got beef, so you gotta know how to separate yourself. A lot of people have a lot of pride, but you have to know when & where to use your pride. Being from the Bronx, it’s kind of a good thing too, because you know what it feels like to struggle.”

Smith tries to drive through the lane during PSAL Bronx Borough championship game against Wings Academy. (Photo courtesy of DeMarley Smith)

One thing about Smith is that even though he possesses such great skills, as far as his scoring and his ball-handling, it’s surprising that he hasn’t been playing basketball for very long. “Competitively, this will be my fourth year. I started practicing in eighth grade, wasn’t so good. Got to ninth grade, met a trainer/coach named Mike B., who helped me with my game and is the reason why I am who I am today,” says Smith.

Smith started out high school at Monsignor Scanlan High School in the Bronx. His first two years, he played on the freshman and junior varsity teams and was the leading scorer. But when he got to the varsity as a junior, his minutes were limited and he sat behind players such as Manhattan College-bound Saquan Singleton and Jalen Lecque, who is now the No. 24-ranked recruit nationally in the Class of 2019 by ESPN.

Searching for a different change of scenery and for a place that would give him exposure, he did what most kids in his situation would have done, which was transfer schools. For his senior year, he chose to transfer to Eagle Academy. The difference between both Scanlan and Eagle was night and day. One was a co-educational Catholic school and the other was an all-boys public school.

A lot of players like Smith leave Catholic schools for reasons such as the fact that they can no longer afford the private tuition or they feel like they have been slighted as far as playing time. So going to the public school route gives them a better chance for exposure and more playing time.

Smith’s reasoning for coming to Eagle was simple: “Mainly, because like [Coach] Queen always says, I had a lot to prove to a lot of people. I just wanted to see what I could do. A lot of people were doubting me because they didn’t see me play for a whole year, so a lot of people had doubts of me, so I wanted to prove them wrong.”

Smith holding the trophy after winning the More Than A Game Pre-Season Invitational last fall, (Photo courtesy of DeMarley Smith)

As far as his love for the school: “The main thing I like about Eagle is that it’s a family thing over here. The support is real. If you come to Eagle, no matter who you are, you will be supported, like, they will support you.”

Last summer, Smith showcased his talents in tournaments such as the Conrad McRae Youth League and the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic. Then in the fall, he continued his onslaught in events such as the Jim Couch National Training Showcase, by scoring 40 points in the high school challenge game and winning the MVP honors in the NYC vs. National game of the event the following day. Then he led in the More Than a Game Pre-season high school tournament, he led Eagle to a championship and won MVP honors.

All of that led to a spectacular senior season in which he led the Eagles to the PSAL Bronx Borough Championship game and the second round of the city playoffs. With Smith, they finished in second place in the PSAL Bronx “AA” division with an 11-4 record and 20-9 overall. “I feel like, in my opinion, we could have taken the whole city,” says Smith about his senior season, “But we had a couple of mental lapses. Individually, I had feel like I had a good season. I won’t say great, because although we made it to the borough championship, we didn’t win. So I’ll say, I had a good season individually.”

Smith’s relationship with Eagle head coach Ryan Queen was one of the reasons for him coming there and it has been very beneficial for the guard. “Off the court, that’s like an older brother to me. He watches over me, makes sure I’m good. If I’m hungry, I can go to him, if I need something I can go to him. Nothing is ever a problem. He just did a lot for me and I can’t thank him enough, honestly.” says Smith.

Now that his high school days are over, the next step is college. This coming fall, Smith will be playing at Division II Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, which plays in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, also known as the CIAA.

The CIAA, is a conference in which plenty of historically-black colleges such as Virginia Union, Johnson C. Smith, Shaw and Fayetteville State duel it out every year. Their conference tournament is played every year at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is the home of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

Virginia Union has been a powerhouse on the Division II level, making seven Final Four appearances and winning three national championships in 1980, 1992 and most recently in 2005, under Dave Robbins. The school has also produced eight NBA alums, including most notably, All-Stars such as Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace. They have also reigned supreme in the CIAA, winning the conference championship twenty times.

Under current head coach Jay Butler, the Panthers have gone 38-22 in the last two years, so Smith is going into a winning situation. Will Smith be able to help the Panthers get to another CIAA championship game in the present future? Only time will tell. But for right now, this is what is on his radar: “Hopefully, my college career goes well. I’m looking to play pro basketball somewhere, no matter where it’s at, doing something that I love.”

Highlights of DeMarley Smith:

Courtesy of For the Culture Hoops.

Courtesy of For the Culture Hoops.

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