Maylinn Smith Carries Antelopes’ Future Hopes
By Doug Carroll
POMONA, Calif. — The spectacular season by the GCU women’s basketball team, which is only one victory away from advancing to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, has had an undeniably bittersweet aspect as it nears its conclusion.
How will the Antelopes replace senior All-America candidate Samantha Murphy next season?The short answer, of course, is that they won’t. A team doesn’t lose 25 points per game — not to mention the steady leadership Murphy has provided — without taking a major hit. It’s not worth pretending otherwise.
However, a glimpse of the future minus Murphy was supplied in Saturday’s impressive 55-35 victory over California State University at Monterey Bay in the semifinals of the West Regional. And it was an encouraging preview, indeed.
Freshman Maylinn Smith, who has averaged 10.6 points per game as the Antelopes’ first player off the bench, scored a season-high 23 points that included three of six 3-pointers and 12 of 15 free throws.
With Murphy held — sometimes literally — by CSUMB to 14 points, Smith’s performance was the difference maker for GCU. She put up Murphy-type numbers in a huge game for the ’Lopes, and the sky appears to be the limit for the career of the 5-foot-9 product of Mesquite High School in Gilbert.
Smith appeared to be headed for Division I Weber State University when GCU Coach Trent May made a last-minute pitch. She had played club ball for Russ Pennell, now the Antelopes’ men’s coach, at the Arizona Premier Basketball Academy in Gilbert. Pennell told May that GCU had a shot.
According to Randy Smith, Maylinn’s father, a campus visit sealed the deal.
“She had tears running down her face as she said, ‘This feels like home, I’m coming here,’” Randy recalls.
Maylinn says her adjustment to college ball has been facilitated by Murphy and Rosalyn Nelson, senior leaders who accepted her from the start.
“Sam has been like a mentor,” Smith says. “She doesn’t have to say much, but she’s helped me along. She really cares about everybody on this team.
“I couldn’t ask for better seniors than ours. They’ve given me a chance to shine. They’ve had confidence in me and allowed me to relax.”
Smith, who is left-handed only in sports, never owned a doll and was shooting on a six-foot basket at the age of 3, her father says. The day she was born, she was in the gym for a junior-high game played by her older sister Misty.
Cheerleading wasn’t her idea of fun. Little May wanted to play.
“Cheerleaders don’t win anything,” Maylinn would tell Randy.
The coaching staff gave Maylinn a domino when she committed to GCU, symbolic of the effect she could have in bringing other talented Arizona players to the program.
“You can go play Division I,” she says, “but will you win? Will you get to play? You’re just another player at many of those places. Here, you can make an impact. You can contribute.”
Already, she has demonstrated her impact on the court. Just don’t count on her to get you to the bus.
She was so wired the day before the Antelopes’ recent four-game trip to Hawai’i that she tried to pull an all-nighter before falling into a deep sleep. She woke up late and kept everyone waiting for several minutes on the team bus.
“When she got on the bus, everybody clapped,” Randy says, laughing.
They’ll be cheering her for all the right reasons for the next three years.
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.