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2015 All-Metro Girls Basketball: Jefferson County’s Smith rebounds from injury

Jefferson County junior forward Diamond Smith averaged a triple-double  in 2015 despite coming back from an ACL tear, earning her player of the year honors. (Jake Martin / The Natchez Democrat)

Jefferson County junior forward Diamond Smith averaged a triple-double in 2015 despite coming back from an ACL tear, earning her player of the year honors. (Jake Martin / The Natchez Democrat)

FAYETTE — Diamond Smith was hitting her peak as a basketball player on Jan. 7, 2014.

In an away contest against Port Gibson, Smith, a 6-2 sophomore center at the time, stole the ball at midcourt and drove to the rim to lay it up for her Jefferson County Lady Tigers. As Smith jumped to lay it up, one Port Gibson player ran into her knee causing her to tear her ACL, MCL and lateral meniscus.

The sophomore who was averaging 14 points per game and 12 rebounds per game cried in agony, as her high school career took a detour.

“She was right there at her peak,” Jefferson County head coach Flora McKnight said. “Not too many girls could challenge Diamond in the paint. It was unfortunate.”

Smith, now a junior with two visible scars on her leg, had surgery one month after suffering the injury. The doctors told her she would have to wait a full calendar year before even thinking about playing basketball again.

“I never thought I would come back from this ACL injury,” said Smith who was voted as the 2015 All-Metro Girls Basketball Player of the Year. “I doubted it.”

But Smith embraced rehab, traveling to Brookhaven three times a week to work with physical therapists at King’s Daughters Medical Center. The progress she made in the offseason had her ready to play by the time her junior season came around in November. Setback because of the injury, Smith worried about her conditioning.

“I was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to be in shape or anything,’ and it was hard running up and down the court,” Smith said.

Naturally, Smith’s early performances were far from what Jefferson County fans had grown used to seeing from the talented center.

“She didn’t look good to outside people, but to me, she looked great,” McKnight said. “Everything just had to come to her. I knew it would in time.”

Time brought success in the form of 16 points per game, 14 rebounds per game and, according to McKnight, double-digits in blocked shots per game during her junior season. As Smith put it, she owned the post.

“That paint, it belongs to me,” Smith said. “You’re not messing with me in that paint.”

Smith admitted it took her a long time to gain that confidence. In fact, both Smith and McKnight suggested that Smith still isn’t 100 percent healthy today. That didn’t prevent Smith from posting triple-doubles frequently, and when she played on Fridays, she would wake up the next morning and travel to Brookhaven for more rehab. Smith acknowledged the schedule was grueling at times, but it was easy for her to stay motivated when she heard her doubters.

“Diamond heard a whole lot of people saying that she wasn’t the same, and that motivated her,” McKnight said. “I was just like, ‘Keep whistling in her ear.’”

With the help of strong freshmen performances by Antrell Gaines and Kailyn Hammett, Smith and the Lady Tigers made it to the semifinals of the MHSAA Class 3A State Championship. Jefferson County fell to Belmont 68-54, and unfortunately for the Lady Tigers, Smith fouled out in the third quarter. Up until receiving her last foul, Smith led the team with 16 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks.

“I wanted to cry on the sideline because I saw my team, and they were pushing hard, but the momentum of the game changed when I went out,” Smith said.

Despite a sour ending to a 20-10 season, Smith was proud to say that she was able to play, able to dominate the paint, and most of all, able to recover from such a gruesome injury.

“Coming off of an injury, when you never thought you’d be back, it felt so good going on that playoff run,” Smith said.

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