CASSELTON, N.D. — Decontee Smith likes to talk about anything other than herself. She prefers to divert the attention away, even though she's a dominant presence on the basketball court.
Smith was Central Cass’ leading scorer as a freshman, and remains the team’s top producer this season as a sophomore. She’d much rather talk about her teammates and celebrate the people around her.
Smith, a 5-foot-8 post player who also spends some time at guard, is averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and four steals per game — all of which are team highs — through eight games this season. She’s helped Central Cass get off to an 8-0 start.
Squirrels head coach Jay Bachman said if Smith wanted to, she could score 30 points a night.
“In my opinion, she could be averaging 20 points,” Bachman said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. But she doesn’t want to. She’d rather win. She gets more enjoyment from an assist or really good pass than a bucket, and that’s really cool. She really prides herself on being a good teammate.”
Smith keeps it short when she’s asked about her individual performance, but lights up when she’s asked about her teammates.
“I just love to let them know that not only is the crowd cheering for you, but I’m cheering for you,” Smith said. “I’m always happy for them.”
Smith averaged a team-high 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game a year ago. She did all of that while mostly coming off the bench.
Smith started a couple games last year, but had a lot of nerves, Bachman said. When she’d get into a game, the first minute was usually a foul, a turnover or multiple fouls. It wasn’t working.
“She would get so nervous and she would foul all the time because she’s so aggressive and so much stronger than almost everybody that she would have these terrible fouls,” Bachman said. “So having her come off the bench seemed to calm her down.”
Smith has six brothers, most of which are older. She started playing basketball around fourth or fifth grade after watching one of her brothers play the sport. Smith wanted to be just like him.
“My brothers would wake me up to go run or we’d go to the court and we’d play,” Smith said. “I’d just play with all these older people that I didn’t know. It made me better than most girls my age.”
It also could be why she’s an aggressive and dominant force on the court.
Bachman could’ve started Smith last season, but he’s superstitious, and the Squirrels were in the midst of a 13-game winning streak heading into the North Dakota Class B state tournament.
“Last year, I had so much adrenaline,” Smith said. “I felt like I had to do more than I was supposed to. But this year, I’m in a spot where I’ve played the game for so long that I know I have to be smarter with my hands and not foul as much.”
Smith has started every game this season. Her basketball IQ has improved, her confidence is growing and she’s more acclimated, Bachman said.
“She brings energy and another level. You know that when she's out there, she's going to make things happen,” Bachman said. “The girls know that, too.”
Smith is an intense competitor on the court, but warm-hearted and friendly off it.
“Away from the court, everybody wants to be her friend, because she’s a super nice, caring person,” Bachman said. “The little kids in our school love to talk to her. They all want to talk to her because she’s a very good athlete, but also because she’s so nice.”
Smith was named to the Class B all-tournament team a season ago. The Squirrels went 20-6 and finished fourth at the state tournament. They closed out the 2019-20 season with two losses, and used that disappointing ending as fuel in the offseason.
“COVID really put a damper on us right away, because we had such a sour taste in our mouth from the end of last year,” Bachman said. “The girls thought, ‘We’re gonna feel a hole in us if we can’t play.’ They were afraid of ‘What if we don’t get to play at all?’ We have to make these count right now.”
Central Cass has an experienced roster that returned eight girls who played a lot of minutes last season. The success the Squirrels have had so far this season isn’t a surprise, but the No. 1 designation is, Bachman said.
Central Cass was ranked No. 1 in the latest Class B media poll. Kindred was ranked No. 2 and Grafton No. 3.
The Squirrels escaped with a one-point win (59-58) over Kindred (7-2) on Monday, Jan. 11. Central Cass was down by one point with a minute remaining, and Smith came up clutch with a game-winning jumper. The Squirrels also earned a narrow 55-53 win over Grafton (7-1) in December.
“She’ll do whatever for the team,” Bachman said of Smith. “If she has to rebound, if she has to score, if she has to get a steal; she’s not just a one-trick person. She can do anything that you need her to do.”
Central Cass hosts Carrington (7-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday.