Staff photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Bradley Central's Caroline Smith shoots over Cookeville defenders during the Region 3-AAA quarterfinal game. Bradley Central won 53-36.
Bradley Central senior Caroline Smith already knows where she's going to play college basketball, and it's with a chance to stay nearby and yet go far.
Lee University announced Monday that Smith had signed scholarship papers last Friday to play for coach Marty Rowe's Lady Flames, who perennially go to the NAIA Division I national tournament.
Lee, like Bradley, is in Cleveland.
"I love Coach Rowe and felt like I'd fit in with their style of play," Smith said. "I talked with some other schools, but I really liked what I saw at Lee and felt it was the best place for me."
Carson-Newman and Bryan also had made offers to her, and other teams were recruiting her.
She was a freshman starter at Cleveland High and sat out a year after transferring to Bradley, per TSSAA rules. Then she was all-district and all-district-tournament last season when the Bearettes went 27-6 and reached a Class AAA state sectional.
Smith led Bradley's balanced scoring with 11.9 points a game.
"She's a perfect fit for [Lee's] up-tempo style of play," Bradley coach Jason Reuter, a former Lee player, said about his first signee as a coach. "She's our team's motor. She sets the pace for us and has the ability to play more than one position."
Rowe said he could see Smith at "a couple different spots" for his team.
"Caroline is a really good fit for our program both on and off the court," he said in the Lee release. "We're excited to have her commit early and help get our recruiting for 2012 off to a great start. She had a great summer, and with her work ethic we feel she's only going to get better.
"To get a local girl that fits into our style as well is great."
Lee went 25-7 last season with Kally Eldridge from Bradley, Hollie German from Polk County and Brooke Hamby from Walker Valley on the team, and former Walker Valley standout Jordan Neuharth will join them this season.
"This area, within an hour of Cleveland, is such a stronghold for girls' basketball," Rowe said, "so to be able to get recruits from this area is a bonus."