Coming of Age
This article appears in the March 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Every Wednesday night, Ramar Smith and his buddies from the neighborhood head to their favorite bowling alley for a night out.
The tradition began a few months ago with some friendly games among seven or eight pals. These days, the guys make an evening of it, grabbing some food, watching sports on TV, playing arcade games and even entering the alley's team competitions.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior guard at Martin Luther King, ain't bad, either. He rolled a career-high 205 not too long ago and says of his pals, "They can't beat me."
All things considered, Wednesday night bowling is a remarkably tame pastime for one of America's best high school ballers. Rated the nation's No. 13 recruit in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com, Smith represents the rising cream of scholastic basketball.
But instead of indulging in his growing celebrity, he's content to mark X's on a score sheet with a stubby pencil.
"I don't really pay much attention to all the attention," says Smith, who burst onto the national scene after averaging 23 points, five rebounds and five assists per game as a sophomore. "I gotta stay focused and make sure I don't get a big head. I've gotta keep working."
That's applause-worthy perspective for a guy who won't turn 18 until this coming Oct. 21. But that upside is, believe it or not, exceeded by the promise of Smith's game. Just ask King head coach Benny White.
"What makes him special as a player is that he really can do anything on the floor," says White, who's in his 10th season at the Crusaders' helm. "He can defend, shoot, he blocks shots, rebounds, shoots free throws and he can get to the basket."
Is there anything he can't do, coach?
"Well, I'd like to see him get a little more explosive off the ball," says White, a former Detroit Northern and Michigan State guard. "When he gets more active at both ends, he'll be more of an impact player. That comes with age."
True enough. Still, more attention off the court translates to more attention on it. As a result, Smith has seen a lot more double-teams and defenses designed expressly to stop him this year.
Bring it on, he says.
"It makes me better at everything to get hit with everything out there," says Smith. "It especially improves my passing. I gotta be crisp. It's a good test."
Things won't get any easier. This summer looms large when it comes to Smith's future. The offseason following junior year can make or break a blue-chip recruit, particularly one like Smith who is wide open on potential collegiate destinations.
Once again, Smith shrugs off the pressure. Mostly because he believes his hard-knock basketball evolution in Detroit — where foul calls in a street game are as common as a UFO sighting — will serve him well on the summer circuit.
"I've got to put 100 percent into this summer and go out and make things happen like I want them to," says Smith, who plays for Detroit's The Family AAU squad. "It'll be hard work. But in Detroit, you've gotta bring your game every single night. That will only help me somewhere like ABCD Camp."
If things happen the way he wants this summer, Smith's stock may soar even higher. Surely this guy has a plan behind his plan to make a big impression.
"I think it all starts with my defense," says Smith, who is also a three-year starter at cornerback for King's football squad. "It sets the tone for me and the team I'm playing on. I get deflections and steals and make stuff happen. I'm working a lot on the pull-up jumper now. A lot of people are taking charges because they know I go to the hoop well, so the pull-up is something I need."
To review, we've got attention on the court and we've got attention off the court. Do the math and that usually leads to jealous whispers.
"Do I hear people say, ‘Aw, Ramar's got it made, he's a basketball star, he don't have to work no more'? Yeah, I hear that all the time," says Smith. "I really pay no attention, though. I just gotta work harder. I can't let nobody bring me down."
Smith's willingness to be candid is refreshing. Especially when talk turns to what motivates him.
"I've been told I have a chance to be a pro, so I have to carry that responsibility every day and every night," he says. "I'm trying to get paid, man. I gotta get paid. I've got my goals to make a living at this sport, and I'm not going to let anyone get in my way."
"His thirst to win is incredible," says White, a former assistant coach at the University of Detroit. "He loves to compete and he loves to win, which separates him from a lot of teenagers who so often want to show off their game. He wants to make a play that makes a difference to the team."
It's not like White didn't see this coming.
"I saw him in junior high, and it doesn't take a scientist to see somebody for who they are when they're that gifted," says White, who guided the Crusaders to the Class A state semifinals in 2000. "It could be dancing, singing, computers. Doesn't matter. That level of talent stands out."
Even at the local bowling alley.