When that phone call came ringing from Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren to Michigan State women's basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant last season, mere minutes before the Spartans were set to tip off against the Golden Grizzlies, graduate forward Alisia Smith's world turned upside down.
In a good way.
Smith, a native of Lansing, Michigan, entered the transfer portal in 2020 after three seasons at Penn State. After searching, she settled on remaining in the Big Ten Conference and returning to her childhood stomping grounds, choosing Michigan State as a better place to house her constantly improving talents.
The 6'3" center has found herself back in the rhythm and she's been solid in the starting five this season, making her debut on the court at tip rather than off the bench like most others. She actually became a go-to starter back when MSU played Wisconsin on Jan. 24 and Merchant hasn't looked back since. Smith has averaged 16.3 minutes over the first seven games and between her different homes over her five year career, she's averaged roughly 20 minutes, or one half, per game.
In high school, Smith was ranked a top-30 recruit for her position and carried several other accolades into her career as a Lady Lion, where the trophy case only grew. The year before she transferred, as a junior, she earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, tallying seven double-digit efforts and averaging 6.4 points and a team-high tying 5.3 rebounds per game.
When she finally got to Michigan State, she became first on the team in rebounding, averaging 6.2 per game. However, her game isn't the only important thing to her. Her leadership as a seasoned veteran hooper is too. Smith, or "Smitty" as the team has dubbed her nickname, wants to step up and give back to her team in every way she can.
"My team expects me to do something productive with the ball ... (in order to) get them started," Smith said. "Everything kind of fell into place (yesterday) and I knew it was a game we needed to win."
Against Oakland, Smith set a season-high of 13 points, only to come back and absolutely drown it yesterday against Marshall, resurfacing with a new career-high of 20 points. While that beat her previous MSU record of 19 points, she's still two away from beating her Penn State record of 22 points. She was non-chalant about it after the game, as most athletes are when it comes to their stats, but said she felt good and knows that the points will continue to come when they come.
"She was great today," senior guard Nia Clouden said of her teammate. "Twenty points is really what we need from her because she's capable of it. ... She has a presence on both sides of the ball and ... it opens things up for the rest of us. ... It's important to get her going early, ... it takes the pressure off the rest of us and ... she makes everyones lives so much easier."
Overall, Smith has been averaging 7.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. She has collected a total of two assists, four blocks and four steals, as well as nine turnovers. Her average shot percentage from the field is 64.1% and she typically banks 83.3% of shots attempted from the stripe.
"Sometimes she tends to float, but (yesterday) I thought she was posting really hard (in the paint) and using those up and under moves," Merchant said.
With the long-awaited Big Ten campaigns only a week away, Smith has her goals locked in. She knows where she has and hasn't hit that expected mark of excellence the MSU coaching staff strives for. It goes back to that mentality, that winners never quit and quitters never win.
"I've seen myself improve in a lot of different ways, whether that's talking or picking my teammates up, just making sure I'm clearing my head and having a clear mind going into the game while knowing what my team expects me to execute," Smith said. "I need to continue to talk to my team, especially on the defensive end, and take my time on everything — rebounding or my shots."
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