Boys basketball player of year: Jabari Smith

Sandy Creek's Jabari Smith (10) dribbles against Cross Creek's Antoine Lorick (23) during the Class 3A boys championship game Friday, March 12, 2021, in Macon. Cross Creek won 57-49. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Sandy Creek's Jabari Smith (10) dribbles against Cross Creek's Antoine Lorick (23) during the Class 3A boys championship game Friday, March 12, 2021, in Macon. Cross Creek won 57-49. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Sandy Creek senior Jabari Smith appears certain to join the line of former Georgia high school basketball players taken in the first round of the NBA draft. Nine have gone in the lottery since 2010.

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None is comparable with Smith. He’s an elite scorer, but at 6-foot-10, he’s far longer than Anthony Edwards of Holy Spirit Prep and Collin Sexton of Pebblebrook. He can rebound and block shots, but he roams the perimeter more comfortably than Wendell Carter of Pace Academy.

Hart County coach Matt Gibbs, whose team lost to Smith and Sandy Creek 87-56 in the Class 3A semifinals, offered a lofty comparison.

“Kevin Durant,” he said, referring to the former MVP and four-time scoring champion now with the Brooklyn Nets. Smith is the best high school player I’ve ever seen in person, a three-level scorer that is extremely efficient. His size, athleticism and timing make scoring on him or his team incredibly difficult.”

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Smith, the AJC’s all-classification boys player of the year, led Sandy Creek to its first state final this season while averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots. He made 39 percent of his 3-point attempts. The consensus No. 5 recruit nationally and No. 2 power forward, Smith has signed with Auburn.

Smith is the son of Jabari Smith Sr., a former four-year NBA player from Washington High who starred at LSU. The elder Smith was 6-11 with a solid jump shot, but was an old-fashioned power forward or center. His son is more modern and well-rounded, a four-year varsity player who was a 6-4 reserve as a freshman and steadily polished his skills as he grew into his body.

Cross Creek's Devin Pope (0) gets off a pass around Sandy Creek's Jabari Smith (10) during the Class 3A boys championship game Friday, March 12, 2021, in Macon. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Cross Creek's Devin Pope (0) gets off a pass around Sandy Creek's Jabari Smith (10) during the Class 3A boys championship game Friday, March 12, 2021, in Macon. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“He has almost every skill you can possess on the floor — shooting, defensive versatility, good basketball IQ,” Sandy Creek coach Jon-Michael Nickerson said. “He shoots 40 percent from 3 and close to 60 percent in the paint. He can guard (positions) one through five in high school. I’m around a lot of kids who have good basketball IQs, but Jabari’s, for his age, is phenomenal.”

Playing in their third final four last month in Macon, Sandy Creek and Smith fell short in the 3A championship game, losing to Cross Creek in perhaps an upset, but no small school played a tougher schedule than did the Patriots. Sandy Creek had victories against state champions Milton of Class 7A and Pace Academy of 2A and lost by one point to 6A champion Wheeler. The Patriots also beat Class 6A runner-up Kell and lost to 5A champion Eagle’s Landing.

Milton went on to win 26 consecutive games after the Sandy Creek loss and is ranked No. 7 nationally by MaxPreps. Milton coach Allen Whitehurst said Smith was the best player his team faced.

“He will be a lottery pick in a year,” Whitehart said. “His upside is ridiculous. He impacts the game from every angle. He can score inside, he can shoot the 3 and can put it on the floor and is really active on the defensive end, blocking or altering shots. Really hard to prepare for as an opposing coach.”

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