Xavier Smith earns GNAC men’s basketball player of the year

Senior Xavier Smith moving the ball up the court during the game.

Chase Beyer, Staff Reporter

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) recognized senior guard Xavier Smith as player of the year last month.

“Obviously I was happy. But really it was a feeling of relief, knowing that my hard work paid off,” Smith said. “I was just happy that I was able to finally play at the level to earn that recognition.” 

Smith played collegiate basketball at Oregon State University and University of Idaho before playing for CWU. 

“Central really forced me to take all those next steps in my development to be as good as I am today, and to have the year I had,” Smith said. “So, I am super thankful for the opportunity.” 

Smith averaged 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.7 steals per game, while shooting 51.1% from the field, 39.6% from three point range and 83.3% from the free throw line this season. Smith said he got to his level of skill by putting in the hard work, each and every day. 

“When I got to college, I really wanted to take that next step in my skill development,” Smith said. “The last two years, every day, and when I say every day, I mean every day, I am up at 6 a.m. and get to the gym by 6:15 a.m. I’m getting about 700 shots in and then come back an hour to two hours before practice and I’m finishing out another 300.” 

Even after shooting around 1,000 shots, Smith still went to practice and had team workouts. After practice, Smith would stay late and continue to shoot until he was satisfied. 

“My goal really was about 1,000 to 1,200 shots every single day, that will put me in a good position to take that step to perform well on the court and still get better,” Smith said. “So that’s kind of my secret, but it’s not a secret because it’s just hard work.” 

Smith said he takes pride in having drive and working the hardest, and it is something that CWU men’s basketball head coach, Brandon Rinta, noticed on and off the court. 

“There was just so many days that I would come in the gym for work, and he would have already been there getting shots up for a couple hours,” Rinta said. 

Growing up in Seattle

When Smith is not on the court or working out in the gym, he said he spends his free time with his biggest supporters: his friends, his family and his dog, Deuce. However, Smith said his biggest supporter throughout his career has been his dad, Will. 

“He’s the one who put the ball in my hands,” Smith said. “He’s been with me and with the game since day one, through the ups and downs, before people thought I was good to the point where I’ve been playing this year. He’s been there the whole time and we have focused on just getting better together.” 

Smith grew up in Seattle and said he is happy to be from there because of the roots Seattle has on basketball. 

“The competition in Seattle is top in the country, always playing good competition,” Smith said. “Being from Seattle, I am happy, this is where I was born and raised, and be able to follow this basketball tradition and legacy that we have here.” 

Seattle gave Smith inspiration and motivation on the court. Smith even chose the number 11 in honor of Seattle high school basketball legend and former NBA star, Jamal Crawford. 

Future Aspirations

Smith may have just won GNAC player of the year, but right now he is only focused on one thing, getting to the NBA. 

“With the player of the year, I know I am that type of player and I know I can play in the NBA,” Smith said. “It’s just about getting started to get better and take those steps to become an NBA player, that is what I am set on. That’s my goal and that’s the next thing I am going to accomplish.”

Rinta said he is excited for Smith’s future.

“I really believe that Xavier is going to continue to grow as a basketball player over the next five years,” Rinta said. “He is still young and even with granted an extra year [of eligibility], he’s graduating young, and I’m just excited to follow him in his professional career and watch him continue to improve.” 

“He worked as hard as any player I’ve coached at improving and developing his game. The step that he took from his first year here to this past season was a large one, that I have seen very few guys been able to make, and it was a result of his drive and work ethic,” Rinta said.