Boscawen’s Smith influences basketball from New Hampshire to the NBA

  • Brewster Academy head coach Jason Smith yells instructions during a recent win over Proctor Academy at Bishop Brady High School. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Brewster Academy head coach Jason Smith speaks to Derek Culver (4), who is committed to play college basketball at West Virginia University, during a victory last weekend over Proctor Academy at Bishop Brady High School. Geoff ForesterMonitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/16/2018 12:55:17 AM

Jason Smith keeps it local.

The Boscawen native and 1991 Merrimack Valley graduate stayed in-state for college.

He’s coached at Pittsfield High, Bishop Brady and Proctor Academy. For the last 18 years he’s been at Wolfeboro’s Brewster Academy. Just last weekend Smith brought his Brewster boys’ basketball team to Concord for the Frank Monahan Foundation Showcase, an event he called, “very near and dear to me having worked for Mr. Monahan here at Bishop Brady.”

But Smith’s influence on the basketball world extends far beyond the local. He’s turned Brewster into a national powerhouse, attracting elite players from across the country to New Hampshire. And some of those players are now influencing the NBA.

Local fans might focus on Boston Celtics rookie Jaysum Tatum during Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, part of the NBA’s All-Star weekend. But it won’t take long to notice Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, a leading Rookie of the Year candidate who spent two years at Brewster with Smith.

“Donovan was always an elite level athlete, highest character kid, big-time defender,” Smith said. “He was coming from a situation where he could shoot 30 times a game and there was no structure, and that’s where we had to adjust his game. But he was always a gym rat and always the best teammate.”

Smith agrees that Mitchell’s stats this season – 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game – are startling, but he’s not surprised Mitchell is thriving in the NBA.

“The only reason why it does not surprise me is his demeanor,” Smith said. “He’s never satisfied, he’s humble, he’s very even-keeled and level-headed.”

Mitchell grew up outside of New York City and around professional athletes. His father was a minor league baseball player who stayed in the game and is now the New York Mets director of player relations. Mitchell was an unheralded recruit as a sophomore, got in touch with Brewster at the last minute before his junior year and Smith happened to have an open spot because a recruit had made a last-minute decision to go straight to college.

It was a fortunate twist for Mitchell, Smith and Brewster. The uber-athletic Mitchell, a 6-foot-3 guard, went from unheralded recruit to the University of Louisville to a first-round NBA draft pick. Smith got a hard-working defensive leader who helped the 2014-15 Bobcats go 34-1 and win the National Prep Championship tournament, beating Florida’s renowned IMG Academy in the final. And the school got a true student-athlete.

“He was our student body president, which is amazing because he came in his junior year,” Smith said. “In the 18 years I’ve been at Brewster, the kids that are historically elected by their peers as student body president are kids that maybe came in ninth or 10th grade, and he was elected at the end of his first year.”

Mitchell is not the only Brewster/Smith product currently playing in the NBA. There’s also Will Barton (Denver), TJ Warren (Phoenix), Chris McCullough (Washington) and JaKarr Sampson (Sacramento).

The college landscape is loaded with former Bobcats, which is bound to happen when you win five national championships in eight years (2010, ’12, ’14, ’15, ’17).  Makai Ashton-Langford (Providence), Thomas Allen (Nebraska), Mike Okauru (Florida), Curtis Haywood II (Georgia Tech) and Sidney Wilson (UConn) were all on last year’s team that went 33-0 on its way to the national title. There are more Brewster players at other big-time programs like Kansas (Devonte Graham), Georgetown (Marcus Derrickson) and St. John’s (Justin Simon).

The pipeline doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. The Brewster team that took the Bishop Brady court on Sunday features players who will be going to Wake Forest, Oregon, West Virginia, UConn, Washington and Syracuse. One of the two Bobcats headed to Syracuse next year is Buddy Boeheim, son of legendary Orange coach Jim Boeheim.

Sending his son to play for Smith feels like a solid stamp of approval from coach Boeheim, and that was confirmed by Buddy Boeheim, a sweet-shooting guard who is one of Brewster’s tri-captains.

“My dad loves coach Smith,” the younger Boeheim said. “(Syracuse has) had five or six players come out of Brewster, so my dad knows that coach Smith is one of the best coaches in all of high school.”

Boeheim said that his father, “really wanted me” to go to Brewster, but he also said he was fully on board with the decision and has enjoyed his time in Wolfeboro.

“It’s been great for me and definitely something I don’t regret at all,” Boeheim said. “It’s been the best year for me.”

Boeheim talked about how tight he’s become with his teammates in a short period of time, and the good vibes were apparent during Brewster’s 104-75 win against Proctor Academy at Bishop Brady. The Bobcats’ bench jumped in celebration with almost every made basket. They shared the ball on offense. They helped on defense.

“We’re definitely a really close team,” said Boeheim, who had a game-high 21 points against Proctor. “I love being with them every day and sharing games with them and getting the crowd into it, it’s a lot of fun.”

If Boeheim needs to talk about growing up in a famous basketball family, he can go to a couple of his teammates, BJ Shaw and Walter Ellis. Shaw is the son of Brian Shaw, a former first-round pick of the Celtics who’s in his 14th year as an NBA coach. And Ellis is the son of LaPhonso Ellis, who was the fifth pick in the 1992 draft and played in the NBA for 12 years.

Given all his connections, and all his success, it would not be surprising to see Smith leave Brewster. He said just last week a college coach approached him about a possible job.

“I get asked about my future a lot,” Smith said, “but I’m totally content staying at Brewster.”

Of course he is. He may have built a national powerhouse and have far-reaching influence, but Smith is still local at heart.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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