CHANNAHON — Jake Smith's basketball career at Minooka Community High School did not have a Hollywood ending. He is hoping his track and field career does.
An ankle injury in early January upended Smith's senior basketball season. Minooka went on to finish 16-15 overall following a 35-27 semifinal loss to Oak Forest at the 4A Eisenhower Regional.
Smith, who is committed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for track, made his 2014 indoor track debut Monday at the Mustang Relays. At practice Thursday, he shared his thoughts with the Morris Daily Herald.
Q. How is the ankle right now?
A. It's getting there. It's almost 100 percent. Last meet, Monday, I ran the 4x2. I was supposed to run the 4x4, but after the 4x2, it hurt really bad. I was limping around, so I didn't run — well, they told me not to run the 4x4. And then yesterday's meet, they told me not to run in, just take it easy. I could've ran in it. It's not really bad or anything, but just kinda there, so we're just waiting for it to be 100 percent.
Q. I'd imagine it had to be a little bittersweet late in the basketball season. You weren't able to play, and your teammates put it together and really started playing well. Was it good to watch to watch that, and at the same time, was it tough to be sidelined as it happened?
A. Yeah. Towards the beginning of the year, we weren't all there, and it was nice to see them all come together towards the end of the season and put a season together, a nice season together, and it was just unfortunate that I was sitting on the sidelines watching it, 'cause that's been my thing for the past four years, playing basketball. I've loved basketball for the past four years — well, my whole life. It was cool. It was nice, seeing them all come together like that.
Q. You gave Oak Forest a great game. What was that like?
A. I don't know, man. It's just tough. We played one of our best games. Defensively, we played really, really well. Just couldn't catch a break on offense most times. Ball just wouldn't go in the cup. I don't know. I think if we would've had some scorers that game, some people who woulda just put the ball in the basket, we would've beat 'em and kept going, but unfortunately we just couldn't pull it out. We had a great season. It was tough for the guys after the game, but we've all been really close for the past four years. It was tough to see it end.
Q. You never did get that regional title. At the same time, Minooka basketball had some of its most consistent success, I think, in a long time during your time here. Do you feel good about where you're leaving the program?
A. I think so, yeah. The past three years, we've had winning seasons. It's weird to think that we haven't won a regional title with the guys that we've had come through, but we've got some really, really strong players coming up. So I think in the next few years, we should pull one out or come close.
Q. When did Nebraska come on the radar for you?
A. The sectional meet of last year.
Q. How? They were there scouting?
A. I think so. I think one of the coaches was there, and it was after one of my relays, they had talked to coach (Dan) Ingram, and coach Ingram came up to me and said Nebraska talked to them — talked to him about me. I was super excited. I didn't actually talk to any of the coaches or anything for probably four or five months until one of them contacted me.
Q. What other schools were you considering? How'd you end up choosing Nebraska?
A. It came between U of I and Nebraska. Nebraska just felt right. Visiting there, I loved the facilities. I loved the coaches. I loved the guys. It just seemed like a good fit.
Q. Is it good to have that monkey off your back, I guess, going into your senior track season?
A. Oh my gosh. Yeah. It's a huge weight lifted, definitely. It was a huge monkey on my back, as you said. For the longest time, we couldn't decide. We had it down between the two for a long time, and then when I finally decided Nebraska, it was a big stress reliever, for sure.
Q. I know it was a great junior season for you, and for the Minooka track team. What are you looking to do for an encore this year?
A. A lot more. We don't know what I'm gonna be in yet, actually. It's just kinda playing it by ear, what can get us the most points. I definitely wanna come home with four medals, and I want the team to come home with a medal — trophy, maybe. That's our goal — win state. We've got a really strong team this year, so hopefully we can do it.
Q. And you don't think the ankle's gonna be an issue for you, going forward?
A. No. Not at all.