USF Bulls’ sister act takes national stage
TAMPA - They are identical twins. Naturally, it’s difficult to tell them apart. But that doesn’t matter. They always want to be together. Andrea and Andrell Smith, senior guards for the University of South Florida women’s basketball team, couldn’t imagine a more appropriate finish for their college careers. USF has earned the second NCAA tournament at-large bid in program history. Tonight, the No. 10-seeded Bulls (21-10) face the No. 7 Texas Tech Red Raiders (21-10) in a first-round game at Lubbock, Texas. When USF’s run concludes, a sobering reality could be ahead. They might have to separate in their pursuit of a professional career. But neither player wants to face that possibility – yet – so they are relishing the moment.“I don’t think we look exactly alike,” said Andrell, although she allows they are 5-foot-8 with similar body types while wearing similar earrings and necklaces. “But if we see pictures of ourselves playing basketball and we can’t see the (uniform numbers, 21 for Andrell, 12 for Andrea), a lot of times, I will think I’m her and she’ll think she’s me. “Really, we don’t know it any other way. When we look at each other, we see our sister, our best friend. But in a lot of ways, we also see ourselves.” That has been a constant from their days at Lakeland Lake Gibson High, when they told recruiters “double or nothing.” They were a package deal. Non-negotiable. “They have always had a special bond,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “They always had a sense of where the other one was on the floor. When they arrived on our campus, they wore the same type of clothes and looked alike. That has somewhat changed, but their bond has remained the same.” They have athletic genes on their side. Their father, Victor, played football and their mother, Barbara, ran track. Victor’s first cousin was Leon “Leki” Smith, a pioneering USF men’s basketball guard in 1973-75. And their careers have featured several Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences. Package deal? Out of high school, Andrea didn’t achieve a qualifying test score, so USF plans were put on hold. They both went to Gulf Coast Community College, where they won a national title and went 59-4. Andrell tore the ACL in her left knee as a freshman, staggering their symmetry and raising the possibility of Andrea finishing college ahead of her sister. But Andrea tore the ACL in her left knee as a junior, causing her to sit out last season and getting their timetables back on track. “We’ve both been the ones who were hurting and the ones who were comforting,” said Andrea, who was born five minutes ahead of her sister. Both players recently surpassed the 1,000-point career mark at USF. Andrea did it first and her total at game’s end was 1,002 points. Andrell achieved it next and her total at game’s end was … 1,002 points. “We sort of do everything together,” Andrea said. Sort of. There are differences. Andrea is considered the more accomplished offensive player. Andrell is more of a lockdown defender, although she can score, too. “I don’t think anybody has ever defended me like Andrell has when we played one-on-one,” said Andrea, who averages 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. “We might play five games and I’d beat her 3-2. The next day, she might beat me 4-1. I like that. Never any bad feelings. We go home and we’re like, ‘Hey, remember that move I had?’ Then we laugh about it.” “I tell Andrea, ‘The reason you’re so good is I’ve had to guard you,’?” said Andrell, who averages 13.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. “We don’t take it easy. We push each other to be better.” There are differences in personality, too. “Andrea doesn’t let things overwhelm her, whereas I do,” Andrell said. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve when I shouldn’t. I’m more uptight. She’s more calm.” “But I like it when Andrell is in control,” Andrea said. “I like her feistiness. She has some things I want.” Together, though, the Smith twins have added a lot to USF basketball. The most tangible evidence is their contribution to the NCAA bid – if USF wins tonight, it faces No. 2 California or No. 15 Fresno State on Monday night – but Fernandez will always remember the moments few people witnessed. Andrea Sheri Smith and Andrell Shari Smith set an example. “They are the first ones to get to the gym and the last ones to leave,” Fernandez said. “The amount of time they put in beyond the 20 hours we are allowed, it’s just unbelievable. It’s unparalleled. “We saw them being great players when we recruited them. They have been that, along with great people, too. They have left quite a mark.” And they did it together. As usual.