If you tried to come up with the Mount Rushmore of Chester County girls’ post players, Downingtown East’s Bella Smuda would certainly be on the short list.
The other candidates: West Chester Henderson’s Shanta Evans, Downingtown East’s Emma Moretzsohn, Downingtown’s Janeka Lopp, Coatesville’s Tynetta Turner, and the Unionville duo of Payton Black and Amanda Brown.
The point is that Smuda is one of the best. Ever. Not that the 6-foot-5 senior needed to bolster her resume, but she can now add another Daily Local News Player of the Year selection to the table. She also won it in 2019.
“I haven’t even thought of that,” said Smuda, when asked about her lofty place in local hoops history. “It’s cool to be mentioned with some of the amazing players who had great careers in high school and then on to college.”
Smuda was a four-year starter for the Cougars, but she moves on to Division I Liberty University in the fall a much different person, and player, than when she arrived at East in the fall of 2016.
“When I was a freshman, I was just hoping to play varsity. I was very doubtful of myself,” Smuda recalled.
“We used to call her baby giraffe,” added her coach, Tom Schurtz. “When she came in, she was strictly a back-to-the-basket post-player.”
To get an idea of how far she’s progressed as a player, you only need look at the raw numbers. For instance, Smuda shot 48 percent from the line and 43 percent from the field as a freshman. Four years later, those numbers were at 75 and 57, respectively.
“I’ve put in a lot of work to expand my game because I didn’t want to be the 6-5 girl that can only post-up,” Smuda pointed out. “I’ve worked on being able to drive, to develop a mid-range game and being able to hit the three-pointer.”
This season, Smuda led the area in scoring (18.9 per game), rebounding (11.4) and blocks (6.2)
“Her contributions go well beyond her individual stats as she made everybody on her team better,” said Coatesville head coach Scott Barker. “I can’t give an opposing player a higher compliment than that.”
Smuda leaves Downingtown East as the second player to score 1,000 career points and grab 1,000 rebounds. Moretzsohn is the other. Ironically, her scoring and rebound totals were down slightly from a year ago, but Smuda became much more efficient with each season.
“The drop statistically isn’t a bad thing at all,” Smuda said. “I was actually encouraged by it because it showed that my teammates were stepping up a lot more this season.”
Over the course of the last four years, Smuda has put on about 20 pounds of muscle. She’s come a long way since the baby giraffe days.
“I’m not embarrassed about (the nickname),” Smuda said. “It’s kind of an inside joke because I was so lanky and awkward. I can still be awkward at times, but with the help of my coaches, I am more in control.
“When I was younger, I grew so quickly that I just didn’t have control of my body. I’ve matured and learned how to control what I’m trying to do.”
Schurtz has marveled at the growth both on the court and off. As a player, Smuda has improved her mobility and agility by leaps and bounds. But the all-around transformation has been no less impressive.
“She came in as a young lady and is leaving a young woman,” he said. “Over the last four years she’s developed a sense of maturity and control.
“She became more self-assured, more comfortable in who she was. When Bella is in public, it’s very difficult to miss a 6-foot-5 girl. Wherever she goes, people want to talk to her and take pictures of her. It can be people she’s never even met and don’t know that she is a basketball player.
“She’s never really allowed any of that to change who she is. She is comfortable with who she is as a person and that is a tremendous accomplishment for a high school student.”
The daughter of a preacher, Smuda acknowledged that she often becomes a focal point during trips to the movies or the mall.
“My height is the big reason for it,” she explained. “People come up to me and say, ‘oh my gosh, you’re so tall.’ But I see it more as a blessing because it allows me to meet new people. It’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t bother me.
“Being a 6-5 girl isn’t always the easiest thing, but what’s helped me to become comfortable with myself is my relationship with God. I feel like God gave me this height for a reason.”