Center High School's Christopher Smith is a shooting savant with a basketball.
"It's amazing the way Chris can score," says Center coach Ray Gagnon. "He can be in traffic under the basket against bigger players and somehow move his body to find an opening and score."
Largely because of Smith's contortionist-like abilities, 12th-seeded Center (23-8) is one of the biggest surprises in the CIF Northern California playoff field.
Center will play tonight at top-seeded Sacred Heart of Cathedral (26-5) of San Francisco in a Division III semifinal.
Smith scored 29 points in an 88-76 win over No. 5 Mission in San Francisco on Wednesday. He had 30 points in a 63-57 victory at home over No. 13 Foothill of Palo Cedro on Saturday.
Smith's totals from the two games: 22 of 33 from the field, 10 of 11 from the line and 5 of 10 from three-point range.
Smith, a senior guard, is averaging 21.4 points for the season while making 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on three-pointers and 78 percent of his free throws.
Besides the three, Smith can hit mid-range jumpers off the dribble, slash to the basket or post up his wiry 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame and still put up points.
Smith credits his array of shotmaking skills to the mentoring of his father, Pete, a former Sacramento State player and Gagnon's assistant, as well as surviving years of backyard battles with older brothers P.J. and Aaron, both former Center players.
"They'd always go hard on me, bump me and push me to the ground," Christopher said of P.J. and Aaron, his seniors by 10 and seven years, respectively. "I had to learn to be creative with my shots."
By the time he was a high school freshman, Smith was dealing backyard defeats.
"I think I beat P.J. the first time my freshman year," Christopher said. "When it happened, he wanted to play some more. But I went into the house. I was happy, but I kept it inside."
Smith has helped the Cougars to a 76-20 record as a three-year starter. He's happy he is finally feeling close to 100 percent following a high left ankle sprain in late January. He missed five games, including one against Pioneer Valley League rival Foothill.
Center finished second to Foothill after winning league titles the two previous years. The second-place finish and a 67-50 section semifinal loss to Sierra of Manteca led to a low NorCal seeding.
The Cougars feel they have something to prove.
"We've been a NorCal semifinalist twice and a quarterfinalist once in the last three years," Gagnon said. "There was no way we should have been seeded so low. Maybe now we can get some respect."
They'll earn plenty with a good showing against Sacred Heart Cathedral, a team loaded with fast, physical players and ranked No. 2 in the state in D-III by Cal-Hi Sports.
There's plenty of incentive for an upset, however.
Smith and his teammates would love to play at Power Balance Pavilion, which they missed out on in the section playoffs. The bonus would be facing rival and third-seeded Foothill (should the Mustangs beat Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland in the other D-III semi).
"We all know each other we've grown up with each other," Smith said of the Foothill players. "We thought we'd play them for the section title. So we're pumped up to play well against Sacred Heart to see if we can get that chance."