How OU commit, PC West star Caya Smith got a leg up from Cleats 4 Kids

How OU commit, PC West star Caya Smith got a leg up from Cleats 4 Kids

Winning the Class 6A girls basketball title was a team effort just like Smith’s making the journey to a major college scholarship.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Mar 9, 2024, 8:30pm CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Mar 9, 2024, 8:30pm CST

NORMAN — Caya Smith carried the gold ball up two flights of stairs, then paraded it along the concourse at Lloyd Noble Center.

She insisted the trophy was heavy.

Not that she was about to let it go.

And when she and her Putnam City West teammates finally reached family and friends waiting to celebrate the Class 6A high school state basketball championship Saturday afternoon, Smith didn’t look the least bit tired. She shimmied her shoulders. She smiled wide.

PC West 41, Edmond North 40.

Some might say it was an unlikely result. Edmond North had won the last two big-class crowns, and PC West hadn’t won a girls basketball title since 1981. 

“We worked hard,” Smith said. “We had to fight our way up.”

No one embodied that more than Smith.

She has committed to play basketball next year at OU. The long, athletic 6-foot-2 wing is No. 70 in espnW’s HoopGurlz national rankings for the 2024 recruiting class. The only player in the state ranked higher is Bethany guard Zya Vann, another Sooner commit.

So, Smith is one of the best players in the country who’s about to join the Big 12 championship Sooners, and she got to finish out her high school career with a state title won on the floor where she’ll play her college ball.

She has the basketball world at her feet.

Of course, Smith had lots of help getting here. Family. Friends. Coaches. Teammates. But one assist came from a group quietly making a huge impact on sports in Oklahoma. Cleats 4 Kids provides athletic shoes and sports gear free of charge to youngsters in Oklahoma, and Smith is one of the thousands of kids who have gotten shoes from the nonprofit over the years.

Basketball shoes.

Track shoes.

Even cleats for the long jump.

Smith is the defending Class 6A state champion in the event. Putnam City Schools’ district athletic director Dick Balenseifen stood in the hall outside PC West’s locker room Saturday afternoon and proudly proclaimed Smith the state’s top all-around girls athlete. He recounted how her top long jump not only beat all the girls at state but also all but a handful of the boys in the 6A event, too.

It’s cool to think about youngsters like Smith who’ve benefited from Cleats 4 Kids over the years. We often don’t know who they are because the gear that they’ve received allows them to do what every other kid is doing — just play.

But well into its second decade, it’s safe to say Cleats 4 Kids is helping Oklahoma kids become scholarshiped college athletes. No way Smith is the first. No way she’ll be the last. But that doesn’t change the appreciation she has. 

“I really love what they’ve done for me,” Smith said. 

Smith knows having a team has been critical to her success. 

So it was Saturday. 

Smith didn’t have her best day, scoring only five points and hitting just one shot from the floor. She had some foul trouble that sent her to the bench a couple of times. But she had a team-high three assists and played tough defense much of the game on Edmond North standout Allison Heathcock, who hit only 2 of 11 shots from the floor.

And the attention Edmond North had to pay to Smith and fellow senior Shamar Bert opened the door for sophomore guard Da’Nae Jefferson. She scored nine of PC West’s 12 points in the fourth quarter and notched its last five points of the game.

Her and-one with 14.6 seconds left gave PC West its first lead since 1:36 remained in the second quarter.

PC West then had to fend off two Edmond North shots in the final seconds of the game. When the second miss was corralled and the final buzzer had sounded, Smith and her teammates sprinted around the Lloyd Noble Center court in unbridled jubilation.

A few minutes later, they hoisted the gold ball.

“It’s heavy,” Smith insisted with a laugh.

But as players and coaches peeled away, Smith didn’t let go. She wasn’t about to let go.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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