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In the heart of Texas, Shannon Smith found herself

Tracy Ko/Daily
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By Max Cohen , Daily Sports Writer
Published November 6, 2013

Shannon Smith had a visitor. He had just gotten off of his plane from across the country.

Before the guest arrived, Shannon, now a newly added transfer on the Michigan women’s basketball team, found herself alone in Athens, Texas, a small town across the country from her home, feeling defeated. Not only was Athens far away from Shannon’s home and family, but the East Texas town 75 miles southeast of Dallas had little Shannon enjoyed.

There was one reason Shannon was in Athens. In the town that prides itself on its lush, rolling hills and its annual fiddling contest sits Trinity Valley Community College.

The women’s basketball team at Trinity Valley bore six junior college national championships to its name. It was a haven for young women looking to rise to the Division I level.

Now, Shannon sat in Athens contemplating her future. Days after arriving, Shannon wasn’t sure she wanted to be there. She had come to play basketball during the 2012-13 season, to get her career back on track.

Yet Shannon wanted none of it. The environment was nothing like she was used to. There were curfew rules that were foreign to her, and Athens didn’t excite her in the least. The closest mall was an hour away.

Shannon had faced enough obstacles to this point. These new ones tested her limits. She told Trinity Valley coach Elena Lovato that she was considering quitting the sport, so Lovato offered to give her four days off. She could get away from the game, something she hadn’t had the opportunity to do in years.

Once an elite recruit headed to her home state’s school, North Carolina, after a star career at Gastonia Forestview High School, Shannon never thought she’d end up here. Basketball had become complicated for the 2010 Miss Basketball in North Carolina.

When she committed to the Tar Heels, Shannon’s future seemed bright in Chapel Hill.

“I love their campus and, of course, their coaching staff and players,” she told ESPN. “We had chemistry from the beginning.”

Shannon’s early chemistry with the Tar Heel coaching staff was short-lived. She felt as though, no matter how hard she worked off the court, she wasn’t getting the playing time she deserved on it. After redshirting her first year in 2010-11 because of lingering illness, her redshirt freshman year seemed like a constant struggle for playing time.

She was assured that if she worked harder, the playing time would come. Yet her playing time remained relatively stagnant, much to her chagrin.

Shannon was repeatedly told that she was only a freshman, that playing time would come if she kept working hard. She wasn’t willing to wait, believing her differences with the coaching staff were irreconcilable. North Carolina declined comment for this story through a spokesperson.

After the season, she decided she would be leaving North Carolina.

Looking back, Shannon knows she needed to become more mature to be able to handle setbacks, but at the time, she felt like all she needed was a new opportunity.

Shannon and her parents did their due diligence in the transfer process. Their process led them back to Michigan assistant coach Chester Nichols, who had recruited Shannon as an eighth grader when he was an assistant at West Virginia. Nichols had just joined Michigan as an assistant as part of new Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico’s coaching staff. Shannon wanted to join them at Michigan.

It looked as though everything would turn out perfectly. Shannon would get to complete her eligibility with coaches she liked at a school she wanted to go to.

But Michigan didn’t have the scholarship availability for Shannon to come right in and play. Either she could go play at a junior college for a year, or transfer to a different four-year school and sit out for a year before continuing her Division I career.

At first, Shannon was skeptical of taking the junior college route.

“I was really against it at first, I did not want to do that at all,” Shannon said.

Now Shannon had made her decision, but among Athens’ rolling hills and isolation, she wondered where she had gone wrong. And she asked herself: should I give up the sport?

***

Thirty-five years earlier, Kevin Smith broke down and cried.

The young man who had given Earvin “Magic” Johnson a run for his money just months earlier in a Class A 1977 Michigan high-school state championship game for the ages had nothing left.


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