The story detailing the rise of Godinez basketball player Brandon Smith is one that is not scripted.
Unlike other Division I college basketball recruits, Smith doesn’t play at a high-profile high school, but instead made his name at a small school in the heart of Santa Ana.
Smith doesn’t have awe-inspiring size. He stands about 6-foot-4 and carries no more than 170 pounds on his string-bean frame.
The Grizzlies’ senior forward is not a product of the travel team circuit. He is playing his first summer of top-level AAU games this month.
What Smith does have is the drive to become not only the best basketball player he can be, but also the best person he can be.
“It’s just a game, really,” Smith said about what basketball means to him. “It’s just fun to play.”
Smith grew up in Santa Ana, attended elementary schools in the city and chose to attend Godinez instead of chasing athletic dreams at one of the county’s basketball powerhouses.
“I went to middle school with most of these kids,” Smith said of his Godinez teammates. “Staying local has been a good thing for me.”
Smith honed his game in Santa Ana’s public parks, and he said he started to see his hard work pay dividends in his sophomore year.
“I think my sophomore year is when I realized I was good,” he said. “After my freshman year I did pretty well, and in my sophomore year I made varsity and started. I was like, ‘Oh, OK. I can do this.’”
As his game began to grow, so did his dreams of playing basketball beyond high school.
“Play college basketball and get my education – that’s the main thing,” Smith said of his aspirations.
But in order to get those looks from college programs, CoachGreg Coombs told Smith there was more work to be done.
“He has improved a lot and has worked very hard the last eight months,” Coombs said. “He’s gotten strong, worked very hard on his ball-handling. At 6-feet-4, he’s going to have to go out and play on the perimeter.”
All the work came to a head for Smith at the UC Irvine team camp in late June.
Word had spread about one of Orange County’s best-kept basketball secrets, and all eyes were on Smith as Godinez took on Vista.
Smith opened the contest with a 3-pointer, followed by a two-handed fast-break dunk. Once Vista realized who they were dealing with, Smith was already passing out of double-teams to his teammates for easy baskets, and Godinez secured a win.
The Grizzlies went on to win the Silver Division of the UCI team camp and Smith earned a scholarship offer from UCI.
After talking it over with his family, Smith decided last week that UCI was the place for him, so he committed to the Anteaters over Arizona State.
“I talked it over with my family and decided that UCI would be the best fit for me,” he said.
Coombs said staying local was a big reason Smith chose UCI.
“His family will be able to watch him and he’ll be close to home,” he said. “He’s very close with his family and that was something that he wanted.”
When Smith was asked if, during those days of practicing at Santa Ana’s parks by himself, he ever thought he would be a Division I basketball player, he said not a chance.
“No I didn’t. I didn’t think so. It’s amazing.”