By JB Clark
TUPELO – The Tupelo Police Athletic League’s newest staff member hopes to use his basketball experience to help shape the program’s students on and off the court.
Jason Smith, 36, played basketball for the Ole Miss Rebels from 1995 until 1999 and then bounced around international basketball leagues for the better part of a decade. He spent time in the NBA Developmental League and leagues in Romania, Venezuela, Belgium and Iceland before moving to Tupelo with his wife.
“As far as basketball goes, when I was coming up I had no one to train my skill and work on my shooting, passing and dribbling,” Smith said. “I wasn’t that good at Ole Miss. I stood out for my defense and athletic ability but had no skill.”
He said he will make sure all students coming through PAL who want to play basketball at a higher level have the skills they need.
“The kids I’m around will have the skill set, and the athletic ability will be between God and them,” he said. “If they have the tools, I want to show them what it takes – the mind-set, the know-how and the off-court stuff.”
He has been volunteering with PAL since moving to Tupelo seven years ago and was hired as the full-time PAL program director on Oct. 1.
“I love these kids and that’s what it’s all about here – the kids, the kids, the kids, the kids,” Smith said. “Some of them have an idea but they really don’t know what they’re capable of, and I think that’s the reason God put me here.”
His responsibilities will expand beyond basketball.
“His experience in the world of basketball is invaluable so we are completely humbled to have him on board,” said PAL Executive Director Sgt. Michael Russell. “He will oversee our day-to-day programs and then help us to expand and do some community stuff as well.”
Russell said with the new building and increased number of students served, the second staff member is a great help to the program. PAL hosted its first community event in the new facility Thursday night.
The Communities Forward Festival kicked off Thursday at the new Douglas Street facility where 11 teams competed in a three-on-three basketball tournament with about 100 people in attendance.
Smith said as the program grows, he would like to see the facility expand its number of basketball courts so PAL can host even bigger regional tournaments.
Day to day, Smith will be overseeing all programming as well as working with community members to grow the program.
“I’ll be soliciting, trying to get donations for the programs,” he said. “Since everything is free here, we have to have funds to run the operations. The bottom line is working with these kids.”