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Pilots’ senior guard to graduate with a double major in leadership and success

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Scurrying back and forth on the court, forcing turnovers and burying clutch three pointers are things the Bethel Pilots’ senior guard, Travis Smith, has come to be well known for. More importantly, however, Smith, who has become a household name in the Wiekamp Athletic Center, has made himself known for being a successful leader during his time with the Pilots. Raised in the small town of Peru, Ind., Smith grew up spending time with friends, hanging out in the nearby town of Kokomo and often working on his golf game. In fact, some of Smith’s earliest sports memories revolve around golf, largely due to his grandfather buying a golf course when he was two years old. It was this early exposure to competition that drove Smith to crave sports as a whole. “I started golf at a very young age,” said Smith, “It’s always been something fun to do with the family and it has created opportunities for a lot of competition.” Smith began dribbling basketballs in the third grade. With great joy on his face, Smith proudly remembered back and recounted his early days of loving basketball and cheering on his favorite players: Willie Deane and Bracey Wright. “Willie was the man while at Purdue and Wright hit some pretty crazy shots along the way to catch a lot of people’s attention,” said Smith. “In elementary, some of my greatest memories were when my family and I would go to college games. The adrenaline I got watching them was pretty unreal and they were incredibly cool to watch.” Smith first found out about Bethel when coach Mike Lightfoot came to watch Smith play a game during his senior season. A fellow Peru native of Smith’s had coached against Lightfoot, and it was this coach that helped urge Smith in considering to play for Bethel. So during the spring of Smith’s senior year, he attended some open gyms here at Bethel College. “I just really had a bond with those guys I met on the court and had a blast at Bethel,” said Smith, “I just knew that these players were for real and the school would be a great fit for myself.” Although Smith had initial hesitations about playing basketball at the collegiate level, he claims that the constant high level of competition has been a great reminder of why he came to play here. “I’ve played a lot of good teams over the years, but I didn’t really know a lot about the NAIA level, coming into Bethel as a freshman,” said Smith. “I’ve really come to love the time I’ve spent with this team, and the competition has been unreal!” The 5 foot 10 inch senior may not cross your mind as being the tallest man on the basketball court, but he is undoubtedly one of the core sources of experience and leadership on this squad. Lightfoot, who is the Pilots' head basketball coach, reiterated just how great Smith’s impact has been over his four years at Bethel. “Travis is undoubtedly a true winner,” said Lightfoot. “He’s not only our go-to guy on defense by defending their toughest shooters, but he leads by example and is an incredible, vocal leader for this team. He has come to own his role as the lone senior by taking more shots and paving way for exhibiting confidence amongst the rest of the guys.” Lightfoot also showed his pride in Smith by happily reminding me that Smith is now only four wins away from reaching 100 victories on his career at Bethel. “[Travis’] victories have said a great deal about his time here,” said Lightfoot. “He gives every ounce of blood, sweat and tears when it comes to being a vocal leader and helping his team win a game.” Smith most certainly does put forth the extra effort. During a recent home game versus a nationally ranked University of Saint Francis team, Smith caught an elbow to the face and had to exit the game for a few plays with a bloody lip. However, Smith, the team captain, rose to his experienced rank by re-entering the contest and helping to lead the Pilots in an effort to upset the third-best team in the nation. Smith believes that his leadership on this team isn’t something that should merely be handed to him, but should instead be earned through the effort he makes day in and day out. “Being the only senior on this team, I am responsible for my teammates and helping us achieve success,” said Smith, “I need to be a leader for these guys and do all that’s expected of me. Whether it means communicating with them and getting the guys fired up, playing to the best of their ability or locking down opponents on defense, I’m expected to help out however I can.” It’s been a learning process for Smith, but he believes that his time here at Bethel has provided countless lessons that will help him in life. “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned since joining this team is what a real work ethic involves,” said Smith, “You realize how hard you have to work, and it may seem hard to get to that level, but once you get there it really sets the tone, not only for yourself but for everyone around you. If I’m remembered by people, I hope it’s for the work that I applied before, during and after games.” Calm and focused are the words used to describe not only Smith’s ability to answer my questions in the lobby of the Wiekamp Center, but also the way in which Smith thrives under the pressure of leading his team. “There’s pressure at any level of the game, but being a senior causes you to have a little bit different view on the expectations being laid out in front of you,” said Smith. “At this level, nothing is given to you. Everything has to be earned through the time and effort you put into it.” With an insightful look of potential room for growth, Smith told me just what is his personal view of success. “You don’t always know how successful you are until you’re able to look at what you’ve become five years down the road,” said Smith, “We’re always looking for ways to improve and build up this program’s success, but it starts with the effort that each of us puts in, day in and day out.” Despite a proven track record for success, Smith insists that there are other goals that have yet to fully be achieved before his eventual leave of Bethel College. “We definitely want to continue the streak of making it out for the national tournament and finish with an even better run than we’ve ended the past couple of years,” said Smith, “We can definitely win the conference outright this year and bounce back from some unfortunate early losses. That and making it out to the final four in Branson are two things we still have left on the list.”
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