A high school player regarded as one of the better basketball prospects to compete on the Coast over the last decade is transferring elsewhere.
Bay High junior forward Tolu Smith, who stands 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, told the Sun Herald Wednesday that he will leave for Meridian at the end of the school year.
Smith will join a Meridian program that claimed the Class 6A state title this year under coach Ron Norman, who was in his first year on the job after spending the previous three seasons at Pascagoula.
Smith was informed by his parents a couple of months ago that they had received “better job opportunities” in Meridian.
His departure will be a significant blow for a Bay High program that finished the season at 25-6 and ranked No. 1 in South Mississippi by the Sun Herald.
“It was stressful when I heard,” Smith said. “I wanted to play my last year with my team, people I grew up with. It's all right, whatever I had to do. It wasn't my decision.”
Smith averaged 13.8 points and and 8.7 rebounds as a junior, showing significant progress throughout the season.
Smith feels badly about leaving Bay High, but is excited about the chance to compete on the state's highest level of high school basketball.
“I get to try to repeat,” he said with a smile.
Smith is currently competing with the Mississippi Express, an AAU team based out of Meridian.
Smith, who continues to grow and seems sure to at least hit 6-foot-10, will likely see his recruitment heat up over the summer. Southeastern Louisiana is the only Division I offer he holds at the moment, but he's heard from more prominent programs in recent weeks. BYU, UAB, Wichita State, Houston, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are among the schools that have shown interest.
Tolu's brother, Galen Smith Jr., signed with NAIA Xavier University in New Orleans this month and will enroll for the 2017-18 school year. The 6-foot-7 Galen Smith Jr. also had a breakout season for Bay High this year, averaging 9.9 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.
The two brothers both hit 4-inch growth spurts prior to the 2016-17 school year.
Tolu Smith will play his senior year under a head coach regarded as one of the best in the state. Prior to his arrival at Pascagoula, Norman was 171-17 in six seasons at Wayne County, leading the War Eagles to the Class 5A state title in 2013. Norman had a 68-25 record in three years at Pascagoula, leading the Panthers to Jackson in the postseason each year.
Meridian is losing its top two scorers from this season to graduation – guard/forward Ledarrius Brewer and guard Javius Malone.