To call Sophomore Forward Keith Smith wonderfully unique would be an understatement. Whether it involves singing 80’s jams in study tables, keeping his teammates hyped up in only a way he can, or harassing opposing offensive players to the point of completely getting them out of their games, you can count on Waterloo, Iowa native Keith Smith.
Quite literally. Smith is one of only four Riverside High School student-athletes who has been with the basketball program from day one through season two, attending the very first basketball meeting on a hot day in September of 2018 at Thatcher Park, never missing a beat (or a study table since).
That is not to say it has been easy, particularly as Smith transitioned into becoming more of a role player this year than last season, one he grew into marvelously.
“We’ve always been a collective team,” he mused about his RHS basketball career to this point. “We are all there for each other, but what really changed (this year) were roles. We have roles on the team and players have to do what they have to do.”
One of those was Smith, who was a regular in 2017-18 closing out games, even earning the nickname “Klutch Keith” from his coaches after virtuoso heady plays late last season in wins over Manual and Purdue Polytechnic.
But this year, for Smith, who saw the small but mighty roster of seven last season expand to 13, it naturally meant there were only so minutes to go around.
While Smith says that the transition was not always easy, it reached a positive summit late in the season as the team learned that energy comes in all forms, on the court and off. As is typical of Chief Keith, as RHS Math Teacher Bonnie McNeely lovingly refers to him as, Smith’s season highlight is unique in that it came in a loss to International.
“The bench was so positive that game, the second half,” he recalled. “Even though we lost, we brought the energy, and outscored (their varsity team).”
It was in that moment where the light bulb went off for Smith about having energy and helping the team even from the sidelines.
“When Will (Holland) and Sante’e (Oliver) called out (International High School star) Jaden Thomas, that took a lot of courage right there.”
He says it was that moment that got the bench mob rollicking.
“From there, we had really great team chemistry,” he said of the remainder of the season.
And though Smith has had his fair share of highlights on the court in his two seasons, it is that off-court presence both concerning basketball and away from it that highlights just what a key member of the squad Smith is, said RHS Head Coach Bart Doan.
“Keith is just a great young man,” Doan said of the forward. “I look back at beginning last year at Thatcher and then Keith coming to study tables and Saturday schools even when his grades dictated he did not necessarily have to, Keith is there for everything. There’s a tangible leadership value to that, a consistency there that will serve him well wherever he chooses to go in life. I’m so proud of him.”
And with that consistency and role acceptance came Smith’s best game came at the end of the season against Indiana School for the Deaf where he had to be pressed into expanded duty due to injury.
“Keith really stepped up the last game after (starting center) Brandin Johnson went down with injury and foul trouble,” recalled Assistant Coach Mike Grady II. “Instead of playing his game, he played the game we needed him to and it kept us in it.”
Knowing the program will continue to grow, Smith said he’s really focused on becoming a better player fundamentally, particularly in handling the ball and being more consistent going to the hoop.
But he says that regardless, being an Argonaut family member comes with benefits he has embraced.
“The teachers are cool. I have friends and teachers that are supportive,” he mused about being an Argonaut. “They care, and being a part of the basketball program is one reason I keep coming.”
With graduation two short years away, Chief Keith Smith will undoubtedly experience several role changes both on the court and off, and judging by the way he has been a leader in getting the basketball program off the ground, he will tackle them easily head-on, likely singing, with those old school tunes blaring as only Smith can do.
Restaurant: Chick Fil A
Musician: I like all types of music, but to get hyped I get into 90’s or 80’s rock
Athlete: Russell Westbrook
Movie: Chicken Little
Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa