There has never been a player quite like Tolu Smith in the islands at the prep level.
At 6-foot-10, he’s neither a pure center or swingman, but a hybrid of both without losing any of the consciousness that makes him impossible to stop on the block. Yes, at the next level, Smith’s triple-threat wing fundamentals will come into play much more often, but for now, the Star-Advertiser all-state player of the year knows he did all he could. Kahuku rose to new heights over the course of its season, reaching the final before losing to Punahou (23 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks).
Smith, a signee with Western Kentucky, hasn’t hesitated since.
“Tolu Smith is a very competitive young man on and off the basketball court,” Red Raiders coach Brandyn Akana said. “He is a no-days-off type of student-athlete. Never idle, always striving for perfection. If hard work pays off, Tolu will continue to be successful in life. Sky’s the limit!”
He did take a breather after a long season involving an ankle injury and trips to the OIA and state championship games.
“I took about three days, but it’s hard to take a day off in the offseason,” Smith said.
Smith chatted with Hawaii Prep World recently.
Q&A / Favorites
Athlete: Jabari Parker
> He’s LDS. I like his story. He came from a struggle, born and raised in Chicago. Great high school career and college career. I try to shape my career after him in some ways.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks/ Western Kentucky
> Because of Jabari Parker, and Giannis is a beast. Western Kentucky lost by one point in the conference championship.
Food (at home): Auntie Kelli’s Stir Fry
> It’s a mix of vegetables and meat. There’s some sauce, I forget the name of it. Smells fresh and taste fresh.
So if you asked her, she could teach you how to make it.
> It’s a secret recipe, she said.
Food (eating out): Papa Ole’s
> That’s a restaurant near where I live. My favorite is the Garlic Chicken plate, but they have a variety of plates. Down in the South, there’s more fried foods and a lot more seasonings. Here, there’s a quantity.
What do you miss most about food in the South?
> Gumbo. It depends on who’s making it. My dad and grandmother (Marilyn Smith) make it the best. There’s a lot of seafood and seasonings.
Hobby outside of sports: I watch Anime a lot.
> It’s like cartoons. I know it sounds like a little childish, like Dragonball Z. Naruto.
Can you draw anime?
> No. I can draw more realistic things, but not anime.
Movie: He Got Game
> There’s a scene where he picks his college. There’s so much controversy about which school he’s going to. It was kind of similar to my situation, deciding between this place and that place.
Why Western Kentucky?
> For one, the coaching staff, I think is amazing. The former coach at Mississippi State is at Western Kentucky. He has such a big background for developing plays and also the facility is really nice.
Did UH contact you?
> Couple times it was just random, players talking story with me.
TV show: Wayans Bros.
> It would be on MTV or BET, it’s reruns. It reminds me a lot of my brother (Galen Jr.). He’s funny and goofy.
Video game: NBA 2K
> I don’t have a game system, but for any challenges, I think I do pretty good.
Music artist: Ty Dolla $ign
> He’s a rapper/singer/songwriter. My favorite song probably would be Something New.
Teacher (elementary through high school): (AP Biology) Mrs. Swiderski definitely has a place in my heart. Many don’t know, but she attended almost all of our basketball games. She also is a kind, thoughtful, and intelligent teacher overall. However, I do appreciate all my teachers!
> My dad always taught me that I have to be a student-athlete.
Class: AP Literature
> I didn’t realize how much detail and how many little things come into literature. It’s not just you speak English you should be good at it. It’s just a deep class. The teacher (Ms. Palmer) makes it deep.
Place to relax: Basketball Court
> There’s no time limit on basketball training. If I said how many shots in one day, it would at least 1,000. That’s the goal, just try and get better every day.
Motto/scripture: For those who doubt you, work harder than the ones they believe in…
> I came up with that, but I looked it up to see if someone made that.
What your mom (Shannel Smith) says that you can’t forget: “Did you go to church today, son?” (Very active in the church.)
> She asks me that every Sunday.
What your dad (Galen Smith Sr.) says that you can’t forget: When I’m on the court, he always says, ‘Keep it simple.’ He just tells me to ‘Play my game’ and that’s all I need to hear.
What your coaches (Brandyn Akana, Junior Ale) say that you can’t forget: “Defense is the key.”
How does your sport affect your daily life during the season and offseason?
> This is something I love to do, so, when I am not playing, I feel a sense of discomfort just because I am not competing. However, when I am playing, I am definitely beyond happy and grateful to perform. When I’m on the court, I am worry-free and I feel free.
> He makes it clear. Whatever he says, he makes it clear.
What middle and elementary schools did you attend? Bay Elementary and Bay Middle School (Miss.)
What youth teams did you play for? What club do you play for and what are the daily commitments like year-round?
> This past summer, I was blessed to be able to play on the Nike EYBL circuit with MEBO Elite and Alabama Fusion. Before that, I played for Elite Heat, based out of Gulfport, who basically helped me thrive recruiting-wise.
Where have you traveled for basketball?
> All over the U.S. I lost count as to what states I got to play in, but it definitely was a blessing to be able to do so.
Is there anything about miss about those times?
> I miss seeing all the top competition in every tournament. It feels pretty good to say I was part of that. We went to Houston, Virginia, Florida, Indianapolis. My favorite place had to Orlando or Vegas. It was hot, a lot of dry heat, but it was worth it.
If you could go back and give yourself advice when you were 10, what would you say?
> I’d keep it simple. Just tell myself never quit. I was really chunky at a young age. I was the last pick all the time, just stupid stuff.
What do you like to do — or what’s something else you’re good at — that would surprise most people?
> I personally think I can rap pretty good.
Would you win a freestyle competition on the bus?
> We did that a couple of times. I didn’t win, but I was pretty good. Probably Sol-Jay was the best.
What is your ultimate dream/bucket list? Where would you like to travel, what life would you like to have as an athlete? And away from sports?
> Well, I want to be known as one of the top players to ever play in the NBA. Once I finish, I would love to travel with my family and just see them comfortable. That’s all I need.
What is the history and background of your name?
> Galen Edward Mitchell Smith. The first letter of each name spells out GEMS. My parents felt my brother and I are their gems so I was really appreciative of the thoughtfulness of my name. Tolu is my nickname, it means #3 in Samoan. I am Galen III. My brother and I look similar, so Tolu was the only way to distinguish us.
Any shout-outs or additional thoughts are welcome. Mahalo!
> I definitely want to give a big shout-out to my friends and family back in Mississippi. I also want to thank the State of Hawaii and the North Shore for welcoming me with open arms. Lastly, I want to thank all who helped me through my high school career, my struggles, and for what is to come. Fa’afetai Tele Lava!!
Do you reminisce about the season?
> I definitely do. There’s things as a team we could’ve done better or as a leader I could’ve done better. I think about the championship game, definitely. I remember Punahou shot the ball really well. They came out to play. We just didn’t play like the same team we were the night before.
There was some chatter about you before you started playing at Kahuku. A lot of questions, even though you were legitimately fine to transfer from Mississippi to play at Kahuku.
> Actually, I heard a lot of it, but I said to myself, honestly, it wasn’t just just one team that felt the same way. That was the least of my concern.
What are you going to miss about high school?
> High school, I’m going to miss the love everybody has for each other. There’s no stranger I met.