It is every athletes dream to reach the apex of their sport.
Over the past 30 years, Summit High School athletics has been fortunate enough to have two such athletes in its rich history. Ironically, both athletes first names start with the letter W.
Willie Wilson, the former Kansas City Royals centerfielder, reached the World Series in 1980 and tonight, Wellington Smith becomes the first Summit basketball player ever to play in the Final Four as West Virginia takes on Duke in the nightcap in Indianapolis. Tip time is scheduled for 8:47 p.m (CBS).
This week's special journey began on Wednesday as Smith flew out with his teammates. Smith's parents, Winston and Elazdie, sisters Winifred and Erin and girlfriend Chelsy Carey all flew out Thursday to Indianapolis.
Smith, the 6-7, 245-pound forward, has started every game for the Mountaineers the past two seasons and currently ranks fifth in career blocked shots at West Virginia. This season (thru 37 games), Smith is averaging 23 minutes, 6.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. In the tournament (thru four games), Smith is averaging 18.8 minutes, 4.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
"We are on a huge run which makes us feel great. We know that we have won 10 straight games because of our defense and the way we play," Smith said, who is majoring in multidisciplinary studies and is the youngest of three siblings. "Ever since February 22, Huggs (Coach Bob Huggins) has really told us to make the state proud and in doing that, we have won 10 straight, because of our love for the state."
Not only is the state of West Virginia giving love back to its team, but friends and fans here in Summit, are extending that love and pride for Smith.
Maurice Torres, a close friend since the second grade and former teammate of Smith's at Summit, is enjoying the ride.
"Knowing Wellington since the second grade, he has been more of a brother, rather than a friend. I have had the opportunity to see him grow as a son, boyfriend, teammate, friend, brother and most importantly a man of God," Torres said. "The way he carries himself around fans, the general public, his peers, his WVU family and even, random people he comes across, is nothing short of the gentleman that his parents have raised him to be. He has been nothing short of what many people ask and expect him to be. He is a great representation of his family and his entire Summit family. We are all very proud."
Torres, who will be donning his lucky WVU jacket tonight, will be watching the game with a small group of friends that know Wellington.
"Most are from Summit, with a few from out of town. It's difficult for me to enjoy a WVU basketball game while watching with a large group (distractions and side talk), so a few of our good friends are going to get together to watch the game in Short Hills. One of our friends just got a new apartment there, so he is using this as a housewarming/Final Four get-together, sort of killing two birds with one stone," a laughing Torres added. "We are all very excited to see Wellington and his team take the court."
As a senior at SHS, Smith averaged 24 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game and was named first team all-state and first team all-Union County. Smith also earned second team all-state honors by New Jersey Hoops in 2005. Smith finished his Hilltopper career with 1,224 points and ranks No. 1 in career rebounds with 734.
"Wellington has accomplished a lot at West Virginia and I'm extremely proud of him," Summit coach Eugene Maxwell said, who is in his 11th year. "He has been a great representative of the City of Summit, Summit High School and Summit Basketball."
Mike Dugan, another close friend, has known Wellington since elementary school and both played for Maxwell, when he coached at the Summit YMCA. Dugan will be watching the game at his house in Summit and will be watching with friends from high school.
"Wellington is a great kid. He is one of the nicest kids I know and has an awesome sense humor. We had some real good times playing together in high school and some real memorable times," Dugan said. "This run they have put together is amazing. You follow the team so closely over the last four years–going from the NIT champs when Wellington was a freshman to the Final Four as a senior–is something very impressive. Over his career, he has worked very hard just like he did in high school and has gotten a lot better and stronger."
So what did Smith think about the night before the game?
"I prepare myself in practice and the night before the game just think about playing my own game and then just trying to stay focused in what I need to do for our team to win," Smith said. "In staying so consistent, my team has a lot of confidence in me to succeed."
One more thing, in an earlier story on SummitPatch.com in December, marking the final game of his collegiate career in the state of New Jersey against Seton Hall (a 90-84 OT win), Smith mentioned the one thing he misses the most are Magic Fountain blends, a Summit staple.
So we asked Wellington, if Magic Fountain could make an ice cream blend in honor of your accomplishments and making the Final Four, what would you call it and what would be in it?
"Smith Magic Blend," a laughing Smith said. "It would include gummy bears, Kit Kats, and a crunch bar mixed with vanilla ice cream."
"I love my home town and my state, and love when I hear Summit, New Jersey on the loud speaker when I come out, so that makes me feel great," Smith added. "I would like to add my thank you to all the people from Summit–they have made my career here 10 times better."