1992-93 All-Baltimore City boys basketball team Smith turned a difficult start into great finish for Southern Coach of the Year

March 21, 1993|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,Contributing Writer

As Meredith Smith walked onto the floor of Cole Field House with his Southern squad for the state Class 3A final four last Wednesday, the unprecedented number of problems that had plagued the team this season were behind him.

While gone, they probably won't Coach of the Year

soon be forgotten.

There were the illnesses: one player had pneumonia, others the flu. At one point, half his team was sick.

Next, arguably his best player -- Dante Williams -- was suspended indefinitely. Then, the school's basketball court was flooded, leaving just half the court suitable for practice. All the problems reflected in the record by late December: The Bulldogs were 4-3.

But Smith, The Baltimore Sun's Baltimore City Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, says he didn't become frustrated. He kept the Bulldogs a cohesive unit until the pieces fell into place.

"With all the adversity surrounding us, it was definitely a bad time," said Smith, whose team defeated Prince George's County's Potomac, 70-57, Wednesday for the state title. "But I'm really proud of the kids because we never strayed too far."

zTC After consecutive losses to Walbrook and Dunbar of Washington, ranked in the top 10 in USA Today's Super 25 Poll, Southern won its final 13 games.

But such an ending didn't seem likely early on. In his 16 years of coaching, he said he never had dealt with more problems in a single season.

It began in December at the Johnstown (Pa.) Invitational in December. The Bulldogs were without Williams and reserve guard Mike Wise. The opponent was Simon Gratz of Philadelphia, the country's No. 1 team, and its 6-foot-11 All-

American Rasheed Wallace. Southern lost that night, 61-44.

A week later, water from a storm damaged the floor of Southern's gymnasium, causing two games to be rescheduled and a third to be played at a near-empty Mervo gymnasium.

While Smith was dealing with the problems, he also was grooming such young players as Dancavtis Keating, John Hemsley, Marlon Wise, Shawntay Barnes and Mike DeShazo to become key contributors instead of replacements.

"He really helped build my confidence," said Keating, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward. "I knew I had a role to fill on the floor and he helped me along in improving my play."

After the loss to Dunbar (D.C.), the Bulldogs' home court was repaired, and soon after, Williams, a 6-foot-5 forward, was reinstated.

"We have dealt with adversity in the past," Smith said. "We have always stepped up and shown maturity. This team is a bunch of juniors, but they are veterans."

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