Kymahni Bent is no stranger to pressure

Aaron Rose

Just before 8 p.m., Kymahni Bent heard his phone buzz. It was a text message from a friend asking if he was OK.

“Yeah of course,” he responded. “Why wouldn’t I be OK?”

Bent hadn’t heard the news yet. What happened next is a bit of a blur. He remembers one of his brothers coming into the room and then going to the hospital together. He remembers waiting there to hear about his other brother, Jahvante Smart, known by his stage name Smoke Dawg. Then, he remembers hearing the news that would forever change his life: Smart didn’t survive. He had succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds after a shooting outside Cube Nightclub in Toronto.

Two years later, on the second anniversary of Smart’s June 30 murder, Bent, 17, is still grappling with the loss while trying to make the most of his potential, an opportunity never afforded to his brother.

The 6-foot-4 Bent is one of Canada’s top high school basketball players. He’s an athletic, lefty who spent last year in Washington, Penn., playing at First Love Christian Academy. This summer was supposed to be his breakout opportunity, according to his Northern Kings AAU coach Michael Simonetta Jr. He had begun garnering serious Division I interest throughout the school year and was expecting to begin nailing down offers during his AAU season on the Under Armour circuit.

But then COVID-19 hit, forcing the cancellation of the AAU season and now Bent won’t get the chance to play in front of those coaches this summer. For him, that’s been a tough realization knowing what could be lost if a scholarship offer doesn’t come before college.

“You never know what these coaches think,” he said. “Who knows if they ever come back to see my senior high school season.”

That’s added extra pressure for Bent, something he’s no stranger to. Growing up the youngest of nine children, Bent said he was always treated a little differently by his brothers and sisters.

“Everybody in my family always says, like, ‘he’s going to be the reason why we're going to be good in the future,’” Bent said.

They used to shield him from some of the violence in his community, making sure he was focused on his athletics. Then when Smart was murdered, Bent said he felt the weight of those expectations increase. Smart had been considered one of Toronto’s top up-and-coming rappers. He had traveled with Drake on the Boy Meets World Tour and was preparing his debut album in 2018 when he was murdered. His death shifted the focus back onto Bent.

“He’s seen the struggles that I went through,” Bent’s mother Pamela Bent said. “It makes him want to do something for his mom.”

That passion is something that comes out on the basketball court, according to Simonetta. Bent is relentless at attacking the basket. He’s the type of player that never has to be reminded to “go hard,” Simonetta said.

Off the court, he’s quiet, Pamela said. He refuses to let outside adversity get in the way of his basketball career. He’s taken on his late brother’s memory as a sort of motivator, using the term “SMOKEYWRLD” to keep himself focused on his basketball career.

In the two years since Smart’s murder, Bent has changed, Pamela said. She’s seen him grow stronger from it, using the tragedy to push himself to another level.

“He wants to do it for his brother,” she said. “To be very successful in what he wants to do because his brother was very successful, but his time was cut short.”

COVID-19 has just added a little more pressure for Kymahni. While it’s frustrating for so many in the class of 2021, Kymahni is ready to get back on the basketball court in the fall and prove he’s worthy of a Division I offer.