After the births of their two sons, Galen and Shannel Smith were informed by the doctor each time that their kids’ size was “abnormal.”
Considering Shannel Smith stands 6-foot-1 and Galen Smith Sr. is 6-5, that came as no surprise.
“We have tall people in our family,” Galen Smith Sr. said. “My wife is Samoan. She comes from a tall, large-boned family. On my side of the family, I have uncles and a great-grandfather who averaged between 6-9 and 7 feet. So you could see it coming.”
What Galen Smith Sr. foresaw took place for his two sons, Tolu and Galen Jr., last summer. The two Bay High School basketball standouts hit growth spurts of about 4 inches in the span of three or four months.
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“It was painful for them because every night they would talk about something being wrong with their knees and legs, not knowing what’s going on,” Galen Smith Sr. said with a laugh. “My wife was telling them to calm down, their bones are growing. They would say they needed to go to the hospital. It was painful.”
Tolu, a junior, now stands 6-9 and has become a dominant force in the post. Galen Jr., a senior, is 6-7 and carving up opponents in a variety of ways — passing the ball, getting to the basket and hitting 3-pointers.
Coast’s No. 1 team
Bay High coach Randy McCrory knew his team had a chance to be very good during the 2016-17 campaign, thanks to an experienced and talented backcourt, but the emergence of the low-key Smith brothers has put the team in the Class 4A state title discussion.
“I’m 6-7½ and Tolu came around at the end of June and I looked up and Tolu is taller than me,” McCrory said.
The brothers’ growth spurt was painful, but they acknowledge it’s been a big help on the basketball court.
“It was a big advantage,” Galen Jr. said.
Tolu, who is closing in on 6-10, is averaging 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. Galen Jr. is pitching in 9.9 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.
The Tigers (21-5) earned a No. 1 ranking in the Sun Herald Top 10, thanks to a 36-27 win over previous No. 1 Biloxi on Jan. 29 in Hoopsfest. On the biggest stage of the regular season at the Coast Coliseum, Tolu delivered 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“Since they were No. 1, we had to show them who is best,” Tolu said after the big victory.
The brothers also are succeeding off the court. Both said this week they have grade-point averages between 3.9 and 4.0.
“They better be 4.0,” Galen Smith Sr. said. “I haven’t had any bad reports.”
The father holds both of his sons to a high standard in the classroom.
A good example of that came in eighth grade for Tolu when he made a B in a class and his father wouldn’t let him play that week.
“He was playing around,” Galen Smith Sr. said. “He didn’t have his priorities straight. He was more focused on basketball than the books. You can play ball, but you’ve got do well in your academics. Books get you a whole lot further.”
McCrory credits the Smith brothers for being model student-athletes, pointing out Galen Jr. recently intervened on behalf of a classmate who was being bullied.
“They’ve got good parents that stay on top of them,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a teacher disciplining them. They’re straight line. It’s black and white with them. It makes it easy for us to coach them. There’s no gray in there.”
Asked about their own performances, the Smith brothers often point back to talented teammates such as junior Jaylan Smith and seniors Chris Moody and Darius Wyman.
“We just want our teammates to be successful,” Galen Jr. said.
Galen Smith Sr. and his wife are both former basketball players. He played at St. Stanislaus and competed on the college level in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She played at South Alabama.
“I’ve seen her out here. She can shoot it,” McCrory said while sitting in his office in the Tiger Dome, home of the Bay High basketball program.
Both Tolu and Galen Jr. appear on pace to play college basketball as well. Southern Miss, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin are all Division I programs that have shown interest, but only Southeastern Louisiana has offered scholarships.
Tolu and Galen Jr. made an unofficial visit to watch a game at USM on Feb. 4 and have an official visit to the campus set for April.
The brothers, who seem inseparable, said they would like to attend college together.
“They might make the decision together,” their dad said. “They talk about where they want to go to school. Ultimately, it’s their decision. Our hope is that they go four years wherever they go and get a degree.
“We’d love to see them play ball together, but that’s not always in the cards.”
The focus at the moment for the Smiths is to lead Bay High to a deep run in the Class 4A playoffs.
The Tigers will compete this week as the top seed in the Region 8-4A Tournament at Vancleave. They’ll play their first game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Moss Point-East Central and the title contest is set for 8:30 p.m. Friday.
With rival Pass Christian already holding one win over Bay High this season, there are no guarantees for the Tigers in the region tournament.
Galen Jr. and Tolu admit they and their teammates frequently talk about the potential of a 4A state title this season, but McCrory tries to make sure his players don’t get ahead of themselves.
South Pike, McComb and Mendenhall should all provide stiff competition in the southern half of the state, but a bid to the state quarterfinals in Jackson seems a realistic goal for Bay High.
“We talk about the process each day,” the coach said. “It’s a grind, take it one day at a time. Every now and then we might say that we’re one of the better teams in 4A and that’s how we want to play, but not that much.”
As for Galen Jr., he wants to finish his senior season with the program’s first state title since 2010.
“That’s my main focus right now,” he said.
8-4A boys tourney
Site: Vancleave High School
No. 3 Vancleave vs. No. 6 St. Stanislaus, 5 p.m.
No. 4 East Central vs. No. 5 Moss Point, 8 p.m.
No. 1 Bay High vs. winner of EC-MP, 5:30 p.m.
No. 2 Pass Christian vs. winner of Vancleave-SSC, 8:30 p.m.
Consolation game, 5:30 p.m.
Championship game, 8:30 p.m.