Growing up, Jalisha Smith was taught from her family, and especially her mother, that you should always help people in need and never look down on them.
Smith is a junior forward on the Eastern women’s basketball team who has become one of the top producers on the court, while also being a contributor to the communities around her off the court.
Smith’s unselfishness did not go unnoticed by friends, teammates and coaches, as she is now a nominee for the 2017 Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams.
This is an award that honors student-athletes who represent sports’ finest in areas of community service and leadership among their peers.
Smith was not expecting to be recognized for such an award because she gives back for her own enjoyment.
“I don’t do stuff just to be noticed, but for them to nominate me for something like that, I was surprised,” Smith said. “I’m privileged and honored to be nominated for it. I just enjoy doing things for people or helping them, and I just didn’t think I would be recognized for it.”
Smith has been doing volunteer work since she was little, and she was motivated by her whole family to do so because there are less fortunate people out there that do not have the same opportunities as the more fortunate.
“Ever since I was little, we’ve done something. My mom also told me you need to help people in need. Even if it is just helping a little kid tie their shoes, I just always try to help someone in need.”
Smith is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council here at Eastern, which is a group of student-athletes comprised of two or more representatives from each sport at Eastern.
The SAAC meets once a month throughout each semester, and the representatives for the women’s basketball team are Smith and sophomore Karina Chandra.
When attending these meetings, the members talk about what is going on in the community and go back and report to their teams the information that was given to them.
Smith said she is always asking to see what is going on in the community to get the team involved, because she feels like the team likes to get involved, too.
Cindy Miller is who Smith always goes to when asking about events.
Miller is the Director of Academic Services for Athletics, but she is also in charge of the Eastern Panthers in the Community Program.
EPIC is a competition that was established in 2009 by the Eastern athletic department to promote student-athlete involvement in the community and on campus.
Each athletic team is awarded points on a scale throughout a whole calendar year based on community service, academic excellence and season accomplishments.
The SAAC works closely with Eastern’ student community service office to develop the opportunities for athletes to get out into the community.
Smith worked hard for her team to win the EPIC competition last season, but the team fell short to the men’s soccer team.
Her team still has another chance at winning the trophy and Buffalo Wild Wings party for this calendar year.
Smith visited Miller often to see what she and the team could do in a tight race with other teams last year.
“Just how motivated she is and dedicated and positive in every interaction that I have had with her,” Miller said. “She is just such a well-rounded individual and very passionate about being a student-athlete here. I’m really proud of her.”
Miller wrote a recommendation for Smith for the award that said how much of a leader she is and how committed she is to her program and getting her teammates involved in community service.
An event Smith did that stood out for Miller was last summer.
“One of the big ones that comes to mind is we had a American Red Cross blood drive this summer, and I talked to Jalisha about it, and she got the whole team involved, and it was in the Student Rec Center,” Miller said. “I attribute the success to that to the women’s basketball team, but Jalisha is the one that led the charge for that and got the whole team involved.”
Smith enjoys doing her volunteer work and helping people out around the holidays. She said if it was flipped on her, she would want other people to help her out, too.
“I like when it is around the holidays,” Smith said. “You just go to homeless shelters and help give them food. For my church, we bought gifts and delivered them to homes. To see the expression on their faces just really made me happy. It makes you reflect and know you’re fortunate because some of those kids were not getting gifts if we didn’t bring them to them.”
Smith is from Chicago and went to Simeon High School.
Women’s basketball head coach Debbie Black said Smith was a player they did not heavily recruit, but she became a starter midway through her sophomore year because of her work ethic.
“Her energy is really something you can’t miss when you’re on the court. She is fun to watch and she can jump over most people,” Black said. “She’s not even 5’9” I don’t think, but she really worked her way through, and I think this year really earned the captain, earned starting and has played better than I thought she ever would for us to tell you the truth.”
As a freshman in the 2014-15 season, Smith played in 15 games coming off of the bench in very limited action.
She jumped onto the scene in the final eight games, when she earned her first career starts.
Smith averaged 7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in those final eight games.
Smith tries to lift up her teammates by using positive criticism and not yelling at them for mistakes when on the court.
“When one of my teammates is feeling down, I pretty much try to motivate them. I have to be the person where if they mess up, I have to let them know.”
So far through her junior season, she has started the first nine games of the season and is averaging 10.3 points per game along with 6.9 rebounds.
Smith has averaged 22.3 minutes of playing time a game and has gotten to the free-throw line more than anyone else on the team.
As one of the team’s three captains, she gives out advice to teammates off the court at community service events.
“Be mindful of what they say to people and just help people in need,” Smith said. “That’s why I try and get them involved in outside activities. And when we’re doing it, don’t act like you don’t want to be there.”
With the holidays and conference play approaching, Smith will make sure that her presence is felt on and off of the court.
There are 278 nominees for the 2017 Allstate WBCA and NABC Good Works Teams, which is an all-time high for the award.
The final roster of 20 members will be released in February.
Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]