High school basketball player one of six to be awarded a scholarship under new program
Azariah Smith was set to be one of the players representing The Bahamas in junior girls basketball at the FIBA Americas Under-15 (U15) Girls Centrobasket Championship this week, but an injury kept her from travelling with the team.
On Monday, she got the news of her life that she was one of six recipients of a full scholarship to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, through its inaugural Women in Sports Committee (WISC) scholarship program.
Smith just completed the ninth grade at St. Augustine’s College (SAC). She said she was surprised with the scholarship offer and is happy for the opportunity as she continues to further her basketball career.
“I am grateful for the opportunity because it is a very expensive school. It will help me on my journey. Out of all persons, they chose me. It will help me to be motivated. I am excited to attend that school where I will be able to play a lot of games. It will actually give me the exposure I need to become a WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) player,” Smith said.
Currently, there is just one Bahamian playing in the WNBA and that is the league’s current Most Valuable Player (MVP) Jonquel ‘JJ’ Jones. Smith said that is one of her goals.
While at IMG, she will be coached by Shell Dailey who is the head coach for the girls team. Smith, a combo guard, said she wants to play National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I basketball and then go on to the WNBA. One of the players she looks up to in the WNBA is Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, IMG Academy has created its women in sports committee and has awarded six full scholarships to student-athletes. The program launched on Monday. The committee consists of well-known women in sports Cari Champion, Dany Garcia, Lindsay Davenport, Lindsey Vonn, Michele Tafoya and Robin Roberts. The scholarship program starts in the 2022 Fall Semester.
Roberts, who is the anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America and a former sportscaster on ESPN for many years, selected Smith for the full scholarship. She will be Smith’s mentor.
“It is motivational,” Smith said about Roberts choosing her. “Out of all the candidates, she chose me. I cannot let her down. I have to work harder.”
Smith had to submit a video saying why she felt she deserved the scholarship. After a two-month wait she got the news that the application was successful. Azariah is the daughter of Luther and Raygail Smith. Mother Raygail Smith said she is ecstatic that the committee chose her daughter for one of the six spots.
“I am very thankful to God for granting her the opportunity,” Raygail said. “Thank you to Roberts and the WISC at IMG. My daughter is very dedicated and well-deserving of this scholarship. It’s truly a blessing to see her dreams coming true, all by God’s grace.”
The 14-year-old was at IMG last year summer for a three-week basketball camp. She will complete grades 10-12 at IMG Academy. Azariah Smith first played basketball at the age of nine when she was in grade five, and one year later, she took a serious liking to the sport and now is preparing to immerse herself in the sport while receiving an education.
The 5’3” player was not able to play any high school basketball since the local program was shut down for the past two years due to the threat of COVID-19. However, she was able to play for a basketball club, the Lucayans, in Orlando, Florida.
“I did not get to play that much. It helped me realize my love for basketball because I have been away from it for so long,” she said. “It didn’t fully stop me as I went outside and played in my front yard, so I stayed motivated.”
While at IMG, Smith is hoping to work mostly on her ball-handling. She said she loves to shoot and share the rock as well.
The other five young ladies received scholarships for golf, track and field, lacrosse, tennis and basketball. Smith is one of two international students to receive the scholarship – the other hails from Venezuela.