Anca Smith was introduced to wheelchair basketball after accepting an invitation to watch a practice at Courage Center following swimming lessons.
More than six years later, Smith, daughter of Betsy and Dan Smith of Coon Rapids, played a key part in the Jr. Rolling Gophers performance at the 65th annual National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) National Invitational Tournament (Jr. NIT) in Louisville, Ky., in late April.
Her team, one of four representing Courage Center, placed eighth among 16 teams in the junior division, improving from 13th place in 2012 with nearly the same roster.
Smith contracted polio at an early age while growing up in Romania. As a result she wears a brace on her right leg and can only walk short distances.
Most Valuable Player
Smith’s effort didn’t go unnoticed at nationals. She was named most valuable player in her division during the awards banquet.
The award wasn’t something Smith was anticipating at the banquet. The all-tournament team was announced and other awards were given, but Smith didn’t hear her name and was a little disappointed because she earned a spot on the all-tournament team in 2012.
That was before the announcer said, “Anca Smith,” as the recipient of the junior division most valuable player. “It was really, really cool,” Smith said.
She averaged 15 points, 8.5 rebounds and five assists per game this season and earned a couple other tournament most valuable player awards during the season, but, “I was really honored to get this one,” she said. “That said it all.”
“We practiced Saturdays, but I would go in extra days to shoot and work on [weight] lifting.”
Jr. Rolling Gophers coach Master Hinkle said: “Not only was Smith a pleasure to coach, she was one of the hardest working teammates and captains that I have had the pleasure of meeting.”
In addition to basketball, Smith was a member of the Jr. Rolling Twins softball team and tried out in track, but “I don’t like going around and around for nothing. I have to chase something,” Smith said.
On the softball team, Smith saw a lot of time at first base and really enjoyed batting.
It has been a busy spring and summer for Smith after she graduated from Groves Academy (St. Louis Park) with 16 other classmates June 4.
Two weeks later, Smith found herself interning for a second summer at Groves Academy’s summer school program where she helps students and teachers. “They asked me to come back and I felt privileged to come back,” Smith said.
Her teachers, “made me believe I can learn, that I can be successful,” she said
Just as Groves Academy helped Smith realize her potential in the classroom, Courage Center has done the same for her confidence and perspective on her future. “When I first came there, I really didn’t think I could play a sport,” she said. “I give it all to Courage Center. It changed my perspective on everything and you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.
“Disability is an obstacle [to overcome] and it doesn’t hold you back.”
Smith admits that when she first joined the basketball program in sixth grade, she didn’t put in a lot of effort. “I wandered off and didn’t practice by myself or pay attention so I was on the bench,” Smith said.
That all changed during a summer camp trip to University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as a ninth grader. “We worked really hard and learned how important teams are and that’s where my game really stepped up,” Smith said.
She’s stepped up the effort even more the last two seasons, working out on her own outside of weekly team practices.
One of the tallest players on the roster, Smith spent a lot of time around the basket and as the primary ball-handler in the transition game.
Another high point of the season came this year at a tournament in Whitewater, Wis., where she scored a program-record 22 points in one game, despite a loss.
“We were throwing the ball away and I didn’t understand why it was happening, nothing was going in [the hoop],” Smith said.
“We knew how to play and guard.”
Smith was so disguised with the performance, despite her own record-setting total, that she didn’t accept the official tournament T-shirt, one of the perks of playing.
Winning games and knowing that hard work really does pay off in the end are two of the most rewarding aspects for Smith, who hopes to serve as a team manager on the A-team when practices start up again in September.
Courage Center doesn’t offer an adult women’s wheelchair basketball team.
Smith plans to go to Anoka-Ramsey Community College in the fall to begin work on a possible career in early childhood development.
“[Courage Center] changed me and gave me a chance to play a sport and helped me believe that I could do anything I want,” she said.