Ireland off and running at Washington

Sophomore Ireland Smith has been a key part of turning around the Eagles’ slow season start.

Point guard Ireland Smith has done a little bit of everything for Washington, which advanced to the Public League quarterfinals on Monday by beating Overbrook. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Ireland Smith already had the skills she needed to be a productive point guard.

The George Washington High School sophomore had the leadership part down. She had the ball-handling skills, she had the court vision and she had a great touch on her pass. But she wasn’t satisfied.

“The thing I wanted to do the most was to get my shot better,” said Smith, now in her second year as the Eagles’ starting point guard. “I started by flicking my wrists in the mirror before bed, that’s something my dad taught me. Then I worked on it a lot with my trainers. And now I always take a bunch of shots before practice and after.

“I think my shot has been where I’ve improved the most. My coaches helped me a lot, and I’ve worked on it. It’s a lot harder to stop a point guard when they can do more things, so I get to the basket more and my shot is a lot better.”

They say practice makes perfect, and while Smith’s jumper isn’t flawless, it’s a lot better and it’s one of the reasons Washington has rebounded from a slow start.

Last year, the Eagles enjoyed a strong season and advanced to the Public League playoffs. This year, things were looking bleak, but Washington went on to roll off wins in 11 of its next 13 games to get back into the playoffs.

And now the Eagles have won two playoff games, including a 59–52 victory over Overbrook on Monday. The Eagles will play again Wednesday against Mastery Charter South.

The Eagles have relied heavily on Smith and Isabella Vazquez to carry the team at the start, but as the other players have improved, so have the Eagles.

“It was a little hard before everyone caught up to what we were doing, but they’re really good so they’re helping us a lot,” the Somerton resident said. “There’s no way we could do this alone. You don’t know how the other players are going to be, but they’re really good.

“It’s good to see the other players do it, it’s fun to see it. They’ve put in a lot of work, and we’re there to help them when they need it.”

That’s what makes Smith such a good point guard.

Though she’s only a sophomore, she’s one of the captains on the team. She has some experience as a leader, serving as a captain on the Washington soccer team, where she plays midfield.

It’s not common for a 10th-grader to be a captain, but Smith loves the challenge.

“My dad helps me so much, and he told me a long time ago that when you’re playing sports, you need good leaders, so that’s something I’ve always worked on,” Smith said. “Nobody looks at me as a sophomore. I think everyone who plays needs to be a leader.

“When you’re a leader, you can help other people, answer their questions, and I think a lot of the girls look up to me because they know I’ve been doing it. I’m able to help them when they need it, and I like doing that. I love being a leader.”

She helps with her words, but she also helps by making those around her better.

For the season, she’s averaging 13.6 points per game, along with nine assists per contest. She also chips in on the defensive side with six steals a game and she grabs more than two rebounds per game.

While her shooting has come a long way, she takes the most pride in her ability to help others score.

“I’m a point guard first,” Smith said. “I kind of do my thing and get others involved. It’s a lot harder to stop a point guard who can shoot, but I try and get everyone else the ball and score when needed.”

Smith’s primary sport is basketball, but she’s also a key cog on the soccer team and during the spring, she’ll play shortstop on the softball squad.

In every sport, she’s in the middle of the action.

“It’s my personality to play those positions, I like it because they’re important,” Smith said. “I like it because my dad went to Washington and he played basketball, football and soccer. He was a great athlete, so it means a lot to me that I’m doing it, too, for the school. I like it, too, because I love the coaches, the school and the teachers. It’s (fun) representing them.”

It’s also fun to represent her family.

“My dad is a huge influence on me, he takes me to practice and works with me to get better,” Smith said. “And my mom is my biggest fan. She comes to the games and everything. They both help me a lot.”

Now she just wants to help the Eagles continue to be competitive in all her sports.

“I’m excited about every season,” Smith said. “I work all summer on all the sports. I’ll usually wake up early for basketball, and then work out all day. I try to get stronger and eat right. My dad always makes sure I get protein and vegetables and I drink protein shakes. I take it really seriously.

“I’m happy I have two more years after this one to keep playing. I love everything about it.” ••