By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- There's nothing much graceful about the way Ryan Smoot plays basketball, and he'll be the first to admit that.
The 6-foot-2 junior forward might not get style points for the way he scored for Strasburg's boys basketball team. But score he did, with more regularity than any of the other Rams on the way to leading the team in scoring this season.
"Somehow," Smoot agreed. "It isn't pretty. I think what I've proved is there's a lot of trash points out there. If you work hard enough, go get rebounds, offensive boards, run the court in transition that you can score 11 or 12 a game or whatever I scored."
The offense-starved Rams needed every garbage basket Smoot could muster this season, heading right into last week's 2A East regional tournament. As he has done all year, Smoot obliged with a pair of solid scoring efforts. That included likely his most important point of the season -- a made free throw that proved the difference in Strasburg's 36-35 first-round regional win at East Rockingham.
Smoot finished with eight points and four steals in the win over East Rockingham and followed that up with a 12-point, 10-rebound effort in the season-ending 72-43 loss to state powerhouse Bruton in the regional quarterfinals. For his efforts, Smoot is The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for Feb. 23-March 1.
"Ryan's probably the most consistent kid we had all year long, in terms of from a practice standpoint all the way through a game standpoint," Strasburg coach Matt Hiserman said. "You didn't have to worry about Ryan on any night. Ryan's going to bring it."
That much was evident in the postseason, never more so than in the closing seconds against East Rockingham. With the game tied at 35-all and the Eagles in possession looking for a go-ahead score, Smoot came up with a steal at midcourt and drew a foul on his ensuing drive to the goal with less than 10 seconds to play.
Hiserman credited Smoot's basketball smarts for that pivotal defensive play.
"Ryan understood the whole concept of trying to create a steal and knowing the game was tied, and knowing that once he got the steal I had no doubt that he was going to get fouled because he knows how to create and get to the foul line," Hiserman said. "He wasn't going to just throw the ball off the backboard as hard as he could because he was excited about the fact that we could win the game. He's that calming effect that you want all your athletes to be."
Smoot had to remain calm, and did so long enough to hit the first of two free throws that gave Strasburg the lead for good.
"The first half was pretty rough, especially the first quarter," Smoot said. "I mean, for a 36-35 game it was exciting as can be if you like defense. We kind of hung in there in the first half, and then in the second half Matt [Clutter] gave us a huge lift. I thought Noah [St. Clair] kept us in it in the first half."
The Rams faced a daunting task in trying to slow down Bruton just two days later, as they found out soon enough when the Panthers opened the game on a 15-2 run. Strasburg battled back to cut that deficit to less than 10 points by the end of the first quarter, but Bruton's quick-strike offense and worsening foul trouble for the Rams proved too much of an obstacle to advance.
"It was nice -- short -- we wish we'd still be playing, but we were able to get a win on the road which is very tough in the playoffs, then we went to Bruton and competed," Smoot said. "I thought we played well, but that was a very good team and you run into those kind of teams in the playoffs.
"I thought we played well. They played better."
Still, a second straight 18-win season that included an appearance in the regional quarterfinals counts as a successful season by most measures. Smoot had as much to do with that as anyone, even if his methods weren't as elegant as some.
Typical score for Smoot -- in his own words -- was a basket he tallied against Manassas Park during the regular season.
"The ball kicked around in the middle of lane and came right to me under the basket," Smoot said. "That's kind of how I score. The ball just kind of finds me. I think the other thing is I made my free throws."
Maybe that's an oversimplification -- Hiserman thinks so, anyway.
"He gets trash points and gets to the foul line, and has the savvy and the court knowledge to be able to get himself in positions to score," Hiserman said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>