- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Bowie State guard Omarr Smith is hard to catch when he runs the fast break for the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, he is not fast enough to outrun a bullet.
There are plenty of interesting stories at the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament this week in Lakeland, Fla. Cinderella teams and talented players out to prove they deserved a shot in Division I but it's safe to say Smith will be the only man in today's quarterfinals with a bullet lodged in his leg.
Four years ago he was a bystander who was shot in the right leg during an attempted robbery in East Baltimore. Smith knows he's lucky the injury wasn't worse.
"They told me if it had been a bigger gun it might have shattered my bone," Smith said. "Doctors couldn't take the bullet out because they said it was too close to my bone."
Smith will lead the 10th-ranked Bulldogs, playing in their first Division II tournament, against No.6 Massachusetts-Lowell today at noon in the Division II quarterfinals a k a the Elite Eight. Bowie State (29-4) earned its trip last week when it won the South Atlantic Region.
The semifinals are tomorrow and the championship Saturday will be televised by CBS.
The bullet now serves as a medal of honor to Smith and how far he has come.
"It's been a great year for me on and off the court," Smith said with a satisfied smile. "I have been through a lot to get here."
The bullet, which doctors say could come out on its own eventually, is one of many jolts Smith has endured to get to today's game.
"I was scared, but I didn't think it was too bad," said Smith, who is cavalier about the shooting. "Those things happen all the time in my neighborhood."
Smith's father, Russell, served seven years in prison for drug dealing before his release in November. Omarr started down a similar road skipping classes and gambling but the discipline of his mother, Gwendolyn Moore, helped him realize his potential as a basketball player.
"When I saw my father get in trouble, I was determined not to go down that path," Smith said. "My peers would get in trouble. That just wasn't a direction I wanted to go. They were selling drugs. A lot of people I grew up with are now dead. They were shot selling drugs and stealing cars. My motivation was basketball. Basketball was my way out."
On the court, Smith also has overcome. The 5-foot-11 guard makes up for his modest size with court savvy and quickness. He averages 11.4 points and is one of the team's best defenders.
Now that he found his way out, Smith looks forward to returning to his old neighborhood. He will graduate this spring with a degree in sociology and guidance counseling, and hopes to pursue a basketball career overseas before returning to help children with similar backgrounds.
"I see so many kids growing up now with parents strung out on drugs," said Smith, who transferred to Bowie from Catonsville Community College. "They have no father figures. They think selling drugs is their only way out. They don't have too much guidance. If I can help them out any way I could, I would like to do that. I see that as my way of giving back to the community."
Smith, who turns 24 Sunday, often has his 3-year-old cousin Malik stay with him at Bowie. Malik's father was killed shortly after the boy was born. It's an all too familiar story for Smith.
But he doesn't dwell on the past, in fact, he's enjoyed an opportunity to play in front of his father for the first time since high school. Russell Smith followed his son's basketball exploits, clipping box scores out of newspapers, while serving time at the Baltimore Detention Center and the state correctional facility in Jessup.
"He's living out my dream," said Russell Smith, who attended every home game this season and works in construction by day and as a retail clerk at night. "I was a playground star and played a little in high school. I was the best example of what not to do. I blew a lot of chances. I didn't want him to do that. … Life is what you make of it. And he's making the most of it."
The younger Smith stayed out of trouble as a child thanks to his mother and her five siblings, one a minister. They were positive role models and kept close tabs on their nephew after Smith's parents split when he was about 5.
He hopes to give guidance like his mother's family did for him, and keeps a close eye on his little sister, Delcina, who plays basketball for the Community College of Baltimore.
Smith planned to attend junior college in Texas, but that fell through and he ended up at Catonsville. He became close with Catonsville coach Luke D'Alessio and when D'Alessio got the coaching job at Bowie four years ago, he brought Smith there the next year. D'Alessio forces his players to attend summer school before their freshman year and when Smith gave up his summer and took some remedial classes, the coach knew he had a committed player.
"He was already intelligent and mature," D'Alessio said. "If you find a kid like that and give him guidance, he is going to give you everything he has. He was prepared for basketball; he had to adjust to being on campus in a structured environment."
After he struggled with his studies at Catonsville, Smith improved his grade-point average to 3.0 at Bowie. His momentum was only temporarily slowed by the gun-shot wound on the evening of May 22, 1999, when he went for a sandwich around 1a.m. and tried to pass some guys hanging out on the street.
"I was just walking through," he said. "A guy came up with two guns and told everybody to drop their money. The three guys to the right ran. They ran and I ran. We weren't that far from running around the corner. I was the last one. The guy let off like three shots and caught me in the back of the leg. I didn't really know I was shot. I kept running like another block around the corner.
"It felt like I got a bad cramp. It was dark and I had all black on. When I reached up and felt my leg, I saw all blood. I was more angry than anything."
He spent one day in the hospital and walked on crutches for a month. The bullet remains in the same place even though Smith's life hasn't. He is leading his team to prominence, graduating from college and enjoying time with his father. Smith also is thinking about attending graduate school before returning to his old neighborhood and giving back to the community.
"He's always had his mind set on what he wanted to do," said his mother. "He always had a real positive attitude towards life and wanted to make something of himself."
It certainly looks like he has.

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