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It’s a new challenge for Granger great

LaGrange’s Smith heading to Kansas

By Kevin Eckleberry

keckleberry@civitasmedia.com

LaGrange’s Derieko Smith and Mike Hardy with some of their teammates on the football and basketball team. Smith and Hardy both signed their letters of intent this week. Smith is going to Cowley Community College in Kansas to play basketball, and Hardy is going to play football at Clark Atlanta University. Contributed photo
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_signing1.jpgLaGrange’s Derieko Smith and Mike Hardy with some of their teammates on the football and basketball team. Smith and Hardy both signed their letters of intent this week. Smith is going to Cowley Community College in Kansas to play basketball, and Hardy is going to play football at Clark Atlanta University. Contributed photo
LaGrange’s Derieko Smith was a two-time player of the year in Region 1-AAAAA, and he was also an all-state player. Smith helped lead LaGrange to back-to-back region championships. Contributed photo
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_smith1.jpgLaGrange’s Derieko Smith was a two-time player of the year in Region 1-AAAAA, and he was also an all-state player. Smith helped lead LaGrange to back-to-back region championships. Contributed photo
Derieko Smith with his family members and coaches at LaGrange High. Contributed photo
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_smith2.jpgDerieko Smith with his family members and coaches at LaGrange High. Contributed photo

LAGRANGE – He has conquered the world of high-school basketball, and now Derieko Smith is set to take on a new challenge.

Smith, who enjoyed an outstanding four-year stint as a guard on the LaGrange High basketball team, has made his college decision, and he’s heading to Kansas.

Smith is going to Cowley County Community College, and he made the announcement during his signing ceremony this week in the LaGrange High media center.

It’s been a long process for Smith, who explored a bunch of different options, and in the end he decided the two-year school would be the best fit.

“It was stressful,” Smith said of the recruiting process. “It’s a big relief to have it over. I’m happy to be in this position.”

There is a LaGrange connection to Cowley College.

Two former Grangers who were teammates of Smith’s, Don Leak and Baron Smith, have recently wrapped up their two years of eligibility at Cowley, and they’re both looking at four-year schools.

LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said the caliber of competition Cowley faces is high, and that the school routinely sends players on to the Division I level.

“One thing about where he’s going, they play in the Jayhawk Conference, and some people think it may be the best junior-college conference in the nation,” Veal said.

Veal said that Cowley’s coaches made a strong push to sign Smith.

“They came and visited him twice from Kansas,” Veal said. “That’s quite the commitment on their part. They’re excited about getting Rico. They’re going to have him as their lead guard this year.”

Cowley’s gain is, of course, LaGrange’s loss.

Smith was a four-year starter, and he enjoyed all sorts of individual and team success.

By the time he’d made his final basket during a loss to South Paulding in the second round of the Class AAAAA state tournament in February, Smith had scored 1,366 points during his four seasons.

He was the Region 1-AAAAA player of the year as a junior and senior, and he was an all-state player those same two seasons.

Smith helped the Grangers win back-to-back region titles the past two seasons, and they made it to the elite eight in 2015.

“This school was a blessing to me,” Smith said.

For the past three seasons, Smith got to play alongside his best friend and fellow guard, LaPerion Perry.

Perry, who’ll be a senior this fall, teamed up with Smith to create one of the state’s most formidable one-two guard combinations.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Smith said. “I know me and LaPerion have been playing with each other since we were kids. He’s like my real brother. It’ll be different, because I won’t be with him next year.”

Smith will be missed, and not just because of his ability to do extraordinary things with a basketball.

Veal, who was an assistant coach at LaGrange for more than 10 years before taking over as head coach last season, said Smith has been like a member of his family.

“Me and my family and our coaching staff, we just really love the kid,” Veal said. “He’s great with my two young kids, my wife really enjoys him. Through all the recruiting stuff, we’ve become a lot closer, too. It’s been fantastic just to be a part of his life for these four years, and going forward.”

Smith, who was also a standout on the LaGrange football team as a wide receiver and defensive back, said his four years of high school breezed by.

“When I was in the ninth grade, I thought I would never graduate,” Smith said. “I thought this time would never come. But it came. It’s here. I’m ready.”

Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports