When Amber Smith was young she thought she was going to be a world famous ice skater.
It didn't matter to her that she was living in balmy Florida or that she'd never been on ice skates before.
In fact, she still hasn't.
Smith could never quite find the time to learn how to do triple Axels or quadruple Lutzes because she fell in love.
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"I never really left the gym," she said. "Once I discovered basketball, I never wanted to do anything else. I couldn't get away from it."
The Kentucky point guard knows that her diminutive 5-foot-6 frame is probably more suited to skates than sneakers.
She's certainly been told that she was too small to ball since she began playing at age four.
"I was told I wasn't going to go Division I because I was too small," Smith said. "Then once I committed to Kentucky it was that I was too small to ever actually play in this league. ... Then it was that I wasn't going to be able to start because of my size."
Those naysayers just made Smith, a star guard at Winter Haven High School who advanced to four straight state tournaments, work that much harder.
"I wanted to prove them wrong," Smith said. "I think I have."
It seems eerily fitting that an undersized player is leading an undersized UK team that was picked to finish 11th out of the 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Behind a junior class that includes Smith, No. 17 Kentucky (21-3, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) has risen to national prominence, winning eight straight games.
UK, which travels to Vanderbilt on Sunday, has been finding ways all season to prove people wrong.
While Smith is just the team's third-leading scorer, she is a key team leader on both ends of the floor.
"She is so key to our basketball team," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "When you start looking at how our energy needs to be, I put a lot of responsibility on her. She's where it starts."
Mitchell preaches more than once a day for the players to play with the three E's: energy, effort and enthusiasm.
Smith not only tells her teammates to play that way, she shows them how.
"The team feeds off my energy," Smith said. "I look at it as my job so I have to do it well and consistently. They need to feed off me and I have to lead the way energy wise."
Smith embodies those three E's, fellow junior Victoria Dunlap said.
Her roommate and close friend is calm and fun off the court, but once the ball is tipped, things change.
"Amber on the court is fierce, scary," Dunlap said. "We feed off that energy and her intensity."
Opposing coaches have seen it, too.
"Amber Smith has really come into her own," Louisville Coach Jeff Walz said after Smith had 19 points and five assists to lead the Cats over the Cards. "She runs that team. She gets the ball to the right people. She knows when to attack. She knows when to pull it back."
She bested that career high of 19 points a few games later against Vanderbilt (17-7, 6-5).
In that upset on Jan. 10, Smith had career bests of points (20) and rebounds (seven). She also doled out three assists.
In SEC play so far, Smith is averaging 10.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Overall, Smith leads UK in assists, averaging four per game, and free-throw shooting (81.7 percent).
In the waning minutes of UK's closest games this season, Smith has made seven of her eight free throw attempts.
She's the epitome of a leader, Auburn Coach Nell Fortner said of the junior.
"Amber Smith is playing so confidently and she has great energy," Fortner said after her team's loss to UK. "Her team goes how she goes and that's what you want your team to do."
Smith said it's easy to play the way she plays when she looks around her every day.
"We're so close as a team and we care about each other," Smith explained. "When you genuinely care about someone, you're going to go out there and work your behind off for them."