Northside's Smith: Wolfenbarger is a program changer

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Jersey Wolfenbarger
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Jersey Wolfenbarger

FAYETTEVILLE — Rickey Smith has had the opportunity to lead teams in Nike All-American camps and coach premier talent at the Jordan Brand Classic in Las Vegas throughout a successful career at the high school level.

Those experiences have allowed him to see the best of the best in girls basketball up close and personal, including players like South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston, the 2020 SEC freshman of the year and SEC defensive player of the year.

Smith, who won his seventh state championship as coach of the Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears last spring, has a player of that caliber on his roster in the River Valley. Soon, she will be suiting up for Mike Neighbors and the Razorbacks.

Jersey Wolfenbarger, rated the No. 22 player in the class of 2021 by Prospects Nation, committed to Arkansas on Monday over scholarship offers from perennial powers such as Baylor, Notre Dame, Mississippi State and Oregon. In Smith’s opinion, his 6-4 guard is already among the best players in the country.

And she still has not reached her full potential yet.

“I think Jersey is a once-in-a-lifetime type player at the University of Arkansas. I really do,” Smith told WholeHogSports. “When she first came (to Northside) and I was describing her to coaches, I called her a baby colt. You can see a long, lanky kid.

“I went from saying she was a baby colt to a baby thoroughbred racehorse. Then you watch her practice and see how intense and how fanatical she gets in practice, I went from a baby racehorse to Secretariat.”

Including Wolfenbarger, Smith said he has sent four girls to play at Arkansas. The soon-to-be senior reminds him, too, of several of the greatest players to come through his program over 25-plus years rolled into one.

She possesses the ballhandling skills and soft touch of former Razorbacks Shanita Arnold and Redd Coleman, and the tenacity of Tamika Kursh, the most heralded girls basketball player in Northside history.

That said, Wolfenbarger is one of a kind in his eyes.

“You just don’t find 6-4 kids that can do what she does,” he said. “She has a work ethic second to none. No one will ever outwork her because there’s only so many hours in a day, and Jersey is working them - trust me.

“She outworks three normal players. It’s unbelievable, her work ethic. She’s a program changer, I can tell you that.”

Neighbors, who recently wrapped up his third season at Arkansas, was the first coach to offer Wolfenbarger. Smith, a longtime friend of the Arkansas coach, said Neighbors put himself out there during her recruitment and took a chance on the guard.

Early in her high school career, Smith recalls going on and on about Wolfenbarger to Neighbors, who responded, “I’ve never heard you talk like this. I’m going to take your word for it.”

“I’m telling you, she’s coming,” Smith added.

Wolfenbarger is a loyal kid, he says, and not one to forget when people are loyal to her.

“I think it just came down to Coach Neighbors believing in me and me believing in him from the start,” Wolfenbarger said. “He offered me when I was a freshman at 5-6, around 100 pounds and then it all kind of played out and that resonated with me - just with his initial belief in me.”

Prior to committing to Arkansas, Smith offered his star player one bit of advice: When you make your decision, notify your parents and then don’t tell anybody. Sit on it for 48 hours to ensure you still feel the same way.

Wolfenbarger called Smith last week to inform him of her decision. She waited two weeks, he said, and added that she was just as excited when making the call as she was when first choosing Arkansas.

“She’s a special, special, special player who I think will open the floodgates for the younger kids,” Smith added. “When a program gets a kid like this, she can be the cornerstone. Now, you start putting the pieces to the puzzle (in place) and it can be scary.”

An 18.7 point-per-game scorer in 2019-20, Wolfenbarger has once-in-a-lifetime drive.

“She’s kind of got the Michael Jordan mindset. She’s demanding and has high expectations,” Smith said. “Before she leaves the University of Arkansas - if she’s already not - she will be a one-name player.

“She’s that type of player.”


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