WESTFIELD, Ind. (BVM) – The boys basketball Class of 2022 in Indiana has featured a ton of talent. But there is one player that has stood above the rest this season and for many of the last four years, and that is Braden Smith.
After his senior season this past winter, that rang true as Smith beat out several stars on the hardwood to claim Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award.
Had to catch an early flight to Florida for this moment pic.twitter.com/HIzBADM6dO
— WHS Rocks Basketball (@WHSRocksBball) April 2, 2022
“I’m very thankful to just even be in the conversation of that,” Smith said. “Obviously Indiana is a huge basketball state and the winner of Mr. Basketball goes pretty far. It just shows to me that the hard work I put in, those long hours every day, paid off. It doesn’t define me, I’m not stopping here, I’m going to keep going.”
As thankful as Smith is to win the award, he still carries a chip on his shoulder as he strives to get even better, just as he has throughout the duration of his basketball career.
“My competitive edge, that’s what makes me, me,” Smith said. “I just love trying to prove other people wrong who say stuff about me, there’s nothing better than doing that.”
Smith has long looked up to a couple of guys who have done the same in their basketball careers: Steph Curry and Ja Morant. He has also had two great role models right at home with his parents over the years, both of whom played college basketball.
“Anything that happened good to me, they’ve taught me it,” Smith said. “They helped me along the way, they’ve been a part of basketball, they’ve been around basketball forever and they wanted me to be just as successful as they were.”
Smith’s dad, Dustin, was a star at Northwest High School who went on to play at Joliet Junior College in Illinois and later Arkansas Tech. Meanwhile, his mom, Ginny, grew up in Arkansas and also starred at Arkansas Tech. In addition, Ginny won Miss Basketball in 1997, so there are now two winners of the award in the Smith family.
“Just to be able to be Mr. Basketball somewhere and have two in the family is an awesome thing to have, and not a lot of people can say it happened to them,” Braden added.
Since their playing careers, both parents have gone into coaching, with Dustin being Braden’s coach growing up, and Ginny serving as head coach of the Westfield High School girls basketball program over the last several years.
While Braden had a strong youth basketball career, it wasn’t until high school that he really realized how bright his future in the sport could be. As a freshman, the standout guard became a varsity starter at Westfield. However, many doubted his potential due in large part to his 5-foot-6, 130-pound frame.
“It was a little struggle, but at the end of the day we have a great strength coach,” Braden said. “I told him what my goals and dreams were and he’s like, ‘Alright, well we have to get in the weight room.’ We did it, now I’m about 6-foot, 170, a lot of muscle. He really helped me along the way.”
Braden’s development both physically and mentally continued into his sophomore season where he became a team captain for the Shamrocks and a first team all-conference player. Similar results unfolded in his junior season, where he also earned first team all-state honors while averaging 22 points, 6.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 steals.
“Junior year, we were all just trying to prove a point,” Braden said. “We were just trying to get over the hump.”
Despite Braden’s successful season, the Shamrocks were not able to get over that hump which was winning the program’s first-ever sectional title. For Braden’s senior season, that became the top priority.
“We just tried to figure out new ways and different ways to be successful,” the Westfield senior mentioned. “We have eight seniors so all of our seniors were getting together, getting work done, competing in practice, competing in whatever we did. It made us all better at the end of the day.”
After a strong start to the season, things looked bleak come January. In his junior year, Braden suffered a stress fracture in his foot. He continued to play on it, but last July, he officially broke the foot, sidelining him for several months.
This past January, Braden re-injured the same foot, forcing him to have to sit out for multiple weeks and creating a tough decision on whether to play through the ailment or get surgery. While many athletes may have opted for the latter, Braden was not going to miss out on his final moments of high school basketball.
“In the middle of the season, it happened again,” Braden said. “I just landed on it, no one was in front of me and it broke again, I knew it was broke. It’s a kind of weird explanation for it, but it was a pain where it doesn’t hurt enough to not play. Our season might have come to an end if I wouldn’t have played.”
Braden returned to the court for Westfield’s senior night, and then came back for the postseason. While his injury may have impacted his game slightly, most would not have even noticed as he again shined on the court, averaging over 24 points and eight assists while shooting at a 70% clip across three sectional games.
This time, the Shamrocks had a different fate, as they went on to beat defending state champion Carmel in the sectional championship, earning the program’s first sectional title in over 100 years of existence.
— WHS Girls Golf (@LadyRocksGolf) March 6, 2022
“I was just excited to be out there,” the senior guard said. “Yeah, it hurt a little bit, but at the end of the day, the sectional championship for your school, first-ever in over 100 years, that’s something you’re always going to remember.
“We did something everyone will remember and it’s just an awesome feeling.”
Not only will the sectional championship be remembered for quite some time, but so will Braden’s incredible high school career. Despite missing a portion of the season due to injury, Braden averaged 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in his senior year while leading the Shamrocks to a 22-7 record. The guard set the program scoring mark with 1,629 points across his four years, and also leaves Westfield as the program leader in assists with 453, free-throw percentage in a season at 90%, and most wins in a career with 69.
Averaging 18 points and five assists with some tremendous shooting throughout his career, Braden also leaves the program as the third all-time leading scorer in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference, and the ninth best all-time scorer in the county.
Congratulations Braden Smith on a tremendous high school career. We are all very proud and appreciate what you have done for our program, school, and community. @BoilerBall getting a special player & winner. #BoilerUp pic.twitter.com/9LNe7ya4op
— WHS Rocks Basketball (@WHSRocksBball) March 18, 2022
It’s quite a legacy that Braden leaves behind, one that’s even more impressive considering how he was doubted prior to his high school career.
“I was just going out there and trying to do my thing and at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens,” Braden said. “I was just going out there and having fun, trying to pave a way for other kids that looked up to me and watched me play. Coming in as a freshman, 5-foot-6, 130 pounds, it hopefully paved a path for those kids that want to make it and want to do those things. I hope that’s the case and legacy wise, I hope I left a good one behind. There’s more kids out there who have the same story and I’m rooting for them.”
After the season, Braden did finally get surgery on his foot. He has progressed well, recently shedding his walking boot, continuing physical therapy, and this time, getting plenty of rest as it fully heals.
It is all in preparation to be healthy again this summer as he takes the next step in his basketball journey at Purdue. Braden’s recruiting ramped up going into his junior season, and he strongly considered playing for Belmont at the next level. However, when Purdue offered, the Westfield standout knew he was ready to put an end to his recruiting process.
“I probably could have waited and gotten a couple of other ones, but that’s not really what I wanted,” Braden said. “When [Matt] Painter and them gave me the call, there wasn’t a whole lot I really thought about other than I feel like this is the right decision. He told me, ‘If you think this is right, I don’t know what you are waiting for, why not just take it.’ I talked to my parents and was like, ‘Why not?’ I’ve worked for this my whole life, it’s a dream. Not a lot of people can say that, it’s just crazy.”
Braden becomes one of the latest Indiana prospects to join the Boilermakers. He joins Homestead star Fletcher Loyer in the Class of 2022, and will also join forces with local products Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn who were part of last year’s class. Furst and Kaufman-Renn finished first and second for last year‘s Mr. Basketball award, respectively, just as Braden and Loyer did for the honor this season. With back-to-back Indiana Mr. Basketball winners joining the program for the first time since the mid 1960s, the future appears to be bright in West Lafayette.
“Coach Painter is doing a great job, that’s the reason I went there,” Braden said. “He’s a great coach … He’s doing a great job getting those basketball players in Indiana that play the right way and do the right things.
“Being able to go into a program like that with Coach Painter and also the guys that are in there right now is an awesome opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”
While Purdue will lose a couple of stars such as Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams, they still have a talented roster that now has plenty of opportunity in front of them.
“I feel like we got the right guys coming in that are going to play basketball the right way, they’re going to dive on the floor, we’re going to take charges, we’re going to do all the little things that it takes to win basketball games,” Braden said. “Obviously a lot for us freshmen to step up and for the returning guys to step up as well. It’s an exciting moment, we’re all ready for it.”
Beyond Purdue, Braden hopes to have a pro basketball career, and may also follow in the footsteps of his parents with coaching someday. People may still be saying he’s too small to play in the Big Ten or beyond, but whether in West Lafayette or wherever the rest of his basketball career takes him, he will continue keeping that same chip on his shoulder that has been a primary reason for his basketball success.
“I feel like this is an exact rerun of high school,” Braden said. “Going from eighth grade to high school, people told me those same things. If you tell me I can’t do something, I’m just going to work hard, keep my head down and keep pushing. Hopefully I’ll be able to prove them wrong once again.”