DIETRICH – A second straight state title wasn’t the only thing occupying the minds of the Dietrich High School boys basketball players.
Blue Devils senior guard Jake Smith hit seven 3-pointers in the 1A Division II state-opener against Kendrick. That 3-point total, which broke the 1A DII tournament single game record, left him four shy of the record for total 3s in a 1A DII tournament.
Once Dietrich’s semifinal game against Rockland was in hand, Smith’s teammates would ask their coaches, “How many 3s does Jake have?”
“We just wanted him to break it so he could do something cool his senior year if we didn’t win,” Dietrich junior forward Slade Dill said.
Smith only hit two 3s in the Rockland game, but he broke the mark with three in the first half of the state title game versus Genesis Prep. He finished the game with six, giving him 15 in the tournament.
Smith’s record-setting performance became a small consolation, as Genesis Prep squashed Dietrich’s title defense with a 68-62 win. But Smith’s long-range display was also a fitting way to end his high school career. Smith, one of two Times-News small school players of the year, was a sharpshooter who keyed Dietrich’s unprecedented success the past two seasons.
“He’s hands down the best 3-point shooter I’ve ever seen at the high school level,” said Wayne Dill, Dietrich’s coach and Slade’s father.
Smith shot close to 50 percent on the year, but it wasn’t solely because of 3s either. He shot 43 percent from deep, but could also drive the lane, and was an excellent finisher at the rim. Smith averaged nearly five rebounds a game, and Wayne Dill lauded his defense.
“He can do anything,” Slade Dill said. “He’s not selfish at all, and he sees the floor really well.”
And Smith was hardly a one-man team. Dietrich had talent to burn, which led to several blowout wins (the Blue Devils had a 22.6 per game point differential this past season). With blowouts came fewer minutes for starters like Smith.
“I think he almost gets taken for granted,” Wayne Dill said. “We’ve been consistently good the last few years, and balanced, so he kinda blends with the team.”
As well-rounded as Smith was, 3-point shooting was his defining skill. Against Kendrick, Smith’s seven 3s accounted for all but two of his points. Against Genesis Prep, his team-high 22 points were made up entirely of 3-pointers and free throws.
“I’ve always liked to shoot 3s,” Smith said. “I just remember even in elementary school wanting to shoot 3-pointers.”
Smith, who averaged 15.4 points per game, earned a first-team selection to the 1A DII All-Idaho team, and Dill was named coach of the year.
None of the positives flowing from Smith’s senior season can eliminate the state title heartbreak. He’s proud of his record-setting shooting performance. He knows life doesn’t always work out the way he’d like. He knows Genesis Prep was stacked with talent, and he’s proud of his team’s showing against the Jaguars. But the wounds are still raw.
“I think about what we could’ve done throughout the game, what could’ve happened,” Smith said. “There are always little things you could’ve done better.”
Smith isn’t sure if he’ll play basketball at the next level. His immediate plan is an LDS mission, which he’ll serve in London after he graduates high school this spring.
Whether or not Smith plays basketball again, Wayne Dill isn’t worried.
“I think he’d make a great coach. He’s a student of the game. He’s always taking what you’re trying to do and makes it work,” Dill said. “He’s gonna be successful no matter where he goes.”
It will take Smith a long time, maybe forever, to get over the perfect ending that Genesis Prep ruined. But he’s still a state champion with a record next to his name. And while that record is paired with a runner-up finish, he doesn’t think it will trigger negative memories.
“As me and my teammates grow older, we’ll look back on what we were able to accomplish and be proud of what we did,” Smith said.