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Arizona women’s basketball freshman profile: Semaj Smith

The post player from Long Beach is a defensive force with a developing offensive game

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Along with Cate Reese and Bryce Nixon, Semaj Smith got a jump start on both school and basketball when she enrolled in summer classes last month. Taking advantage of a 2013 rule change that allows players to receive coaching if they are taking classes, the three freshmen have joined sophomore Marlee Kyles in Richard Jefferson Gymnasium to prepare for the upcoming year.

Here’s more info on Smith.

Semaj Smith

  • Hometown: Long Beach, California
  • High School: St. Anthony’s
  • Class: Freshman
  • Height: 6’5”
  • Position: Center/Post

High School Career


2014-15 Freshman 28 6.4 2.5 0.4
2015-16 Sophomore approx 28 7.8 7.7 3.3
2016-17 Junior approx 28 15.9 15.2 5.7
2017 Spring AAU 10 5.8 7.7 1.3
Yearly stats for high school and AAU

Recruiting Notes

  • Rated a five-star recruit by espnW HoopGurlz and a four-star recruit by Prospects Nation.
  • Ninth-ranked post player and No. 52 overall according to ESPN.
  • Prospects Nation ranks her No. 102 overall and No. 22 at her position.
  • Broke onto the national scene her junior year.
  • Recruiting evaluations praise her defense, but say that her offense is still developing.
  • Has a range out to the free throw line.
  • Agility, foot work and a soft touch are keys to her offensive game.
  • Final five was Arizona, Cal, Oklahoma State, UC Irvine and Washington.
  • Final visit was to Arizona.

What the scouts say

“Athletic front-court prospect patrols the key, alters shots, initiates fast break; mobile in transition game; emerging offensive arsenal; consistent at the free throw line; a stock-riser in the class of 2018 that ‘oozes’ next level possibilities.” — ESPN

What to expect in 2018-19 and beyond

Smith’s most important contribution will be on the defensive end where she will provide the presence in the paint that Arizona lacked last season.

The addition of Smith will allow Destiny Graham to move into a more natural position. Graham gave up considerable size to her conference foes all season. Arizona will no longer require her to do that.

In addition to blocking shots, Smith can pair with Reese to create a formidable pair of rebounders. She believes this will be her most important role her freshman season.

“I think I can help with rebounding. It wasn’t very good last year,” Smith said.

Where Smith may need to improve is on offense. She averaged double digit scoring her final two years of high school, but those averages dipped back to her underclassman levels on the AAU circuit.

While Arizona may not need her to carry a major load on the scoring end, having reliable scoring in the post will make them a more balanced team. If they want to threaten the top half of the conference and eventually reach the NCAAs again, that’s vital. The development over Smith’s prep career indicates that she is not averse to the work necessary to do that.

Personal Notes

  • “Semaj” is “James” spelled backwards and is pronounced Seh-mah-jay.
  • Semaj is the daughter of two Long Beach State basketball players, Rhonda Smith and James Williams. Rhonda owns Long Beach State’s single-season blocks record.
  • She changed her last name from Williams to Smith when she entered high school.
  • Her godmother, Crystal Givens, played with professionally with Adia Barnes.
  • She played on the Cal Sparks AAU team with Arizona sophomore Sam Thomas.
  • She says that the Tucson heat doesn’t bother her because she has lived in Moreno Valley, California.
  • That Arizona has a teaching hospital attracted her because she wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.

If you missed it, read the previous freshman profile about Cate Reese.