The leadership role started early for Anthony Smith.
As just a sophomore, he has as much, if not more, varsity experience than any of his Bluffton High School teammates. He admits the lack of upperclassmen on the roster flustered the Bobcats early in the season.
But things sure have picked up now. The Bobcats are 4-1 through five Region 7-AAA games, placing them atop the league standings.
With five games left to play, the Bobcats (10-7) have a legitimate shot at winning the first region title in school history, following in the footsteps of the football team, for which Smith also started.
The march toward that goal continues tonight when Bluffton travels to Lake Marion, the only other team in the region with just one loss.
Smith has been a big reason for the improved play during the region schedule -- he leads the team with 3.4 assists per game and is third in scoring with 7.3 points per game.
Bluffton's point guard sat down with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette before Thursday's practice to talk about the Bobcats' recent success, the possibility of winning a region championship and his favorite college program -- the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Question: At 6-6 heading into the region, this team was not exactly catching the attention of anyone -- what has changed during the region season?
Answer: Our focus. Every day in practice, we focus a whole lot better than we did at the beginning of the year. And (coach Brett) Macy always said that if we focus, the sky's the limit basically.
Q: Before the season, you guys talked a lot about carrying over success from the football team -- does success really translate from one sport to another?
A: Yes, it does. Last year, our football and basketball team didn't have the mind-set of winning. We accepted losing. This year, we have a lot of guys playing basketball that played football. So now if we don't win, we're mad. It's like we must win.
Q: Why hasn't this team's youth been more of a factor?
A: It actually has affected us -- early on, that's why we didn't play as well as we are now. We didn't have any varsity experience. With me and C.J. (Frazier) being sophomores, we had the most varsity experience on the team. So it took a few games for everyone to adapt.
Q: What's been the key to winning the tight games?
A: Focus and execution. Down the stretch, when everything gets tight, you always leave it all out on the floor. Listen to your coach; do what he says. Pay close attention to the details and try to perfect everything.
Q: The perception is this team lives and dies by the 3-point shot. True?
A: No. As you saw in the first half (Tuesday) against Hilton Head High, we hit a lot of 3s. In the second half, we hardly hit any, and we still won. We've had games where we haven't made shots and we've won. We play defense and get out in transition to get easier shots.
Q: The win against Hilton Head High puts you at 4-1 in the region -- are you suddenly the favorites to win this league?
A: I believe so. I believe people realize who we are now. But now we'll get everyone's best game. Everyone will come ready to play. So we have to be ready, too.
Q: Big game tonight against Lake Marion, a team you've already beaten. How do you do it again?
A: The key is stopping (Michael Williams), because everything runs through him. Make them shoot shots from the outside instead of letting them get in the lane and make easy shots.
Q: Stepping aside from your game, do you get the time to watch a lot of basketball on TV?
A: Yeah, I watch a lot of basketball. More college more than the NBA. Ohio State is my favorite team, so I've watched a lot of them this year.
Q: Good timing for that question, I guess.
A: Yeah, it's been great. Living down here, a lot of people hate on them. Now that they're No. 1 in the country, no one has anything to say. ... I think they have a very good chance of winning it all.
Q: Is there anyone you watch and try to model your game after?
A: Aaron Craft for Ohio State, with the way he plays defense. I try to see what he's doing and try to think how he's thinking. He has different strategies to stop different players. Game in and game out, he may have a shooter to defend, so he tries to crowd space. Then he may have someone who's good at driving, so he gives them space and tries to make them do what he wants them to do.