Ball is life: Freshman phenom NaLyssa Smith focused on basketball, family

Baylor freshman forward NaLyssa Smith glides in for a layup against Southern on Nov. 15 at the Ferrell Center. Smith is fifth on the team with 9.9 points per game on the season. Smith is third on the team with 6.1 rebounds per game and plays 18.1 minutes per game. Lariat File Photo

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer

After being nationally ranked No. 13 coming out of high school, Texas native and Baylor women’s basketball forward NaLyssa Smith is one of six freshmen playing for head coach Kim Mulkey this season.

On the season, Smith has 189 points, a .561 field goal percentage (78-139) and 114 rebounds with an average of 6.4 per game.

Transitioning from high school to college, Smith had offers to play at South Carolina, Ohio State and Louisville before settling down at Baylor. She said her decision mostly drew from Baylor giving her a convenient environment, with a supportive, open and light-hearted team.

“I liked that it was a small campus,” Smith said. “I can get around places quickly. I liked Coach Mulkey. I think she’s super fun and funny. The team too, of course, they’re all cool.”

Her journey to Baylor and playing at a collegiate level has been a long one. From starting basketball at 4 years old in her garage with her father, to always being the tallest kid in school and to feeling like a celebrity during recruitment, Smith said basketball has been her destiny and that she couldn’t picture her life without it.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing. Basketball has just taken me so far,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s just made me grow as a person and open my eyes to see that a sport can take you so far. My life goal [is] probably to just reach success and whatever I plan on doing down the road. Right now it’s just to play pro-ball. See where that goes.”

Even with basketball being one of her top priorities, Smith said that family comes first. She said her relationship with her brother and parents is tight-knit and a huge source of motivation, especially when she looks for strength.

“Professionally, I look up to [WNBA star] Candace Parker as a player because she just does everything overall. She’s a good person,” Smith said. “And anybody that I look up to has to be my brother or my dad. My family, basically, because they’re all strong people. They’re all super positive. … My brother is my best friend. My family is super close.”

Her tight relationship with her family even has a permanent place on her body. To remind her of her humble beginnings and to always stay positive and focused, Smith has two tattoos: one on her left forearm and the second on her calf.

“This one says ‘When I fall low, Father help me to remember that You are with me and that I have nothing to fear.’ It just reminds me that if I’m feeling down to always know that God is on my side,” Smith said. “I have this one too [points to calf]. It says “family forever” in Chinese.”

Hopeful for the future with a good support group, Smith said the one thing she would want to tell her future self and to remember going forward is to “shock the world [and] make people believe.”

Smith and the Lady Bears return to the court to face Texas Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center.