Tuesday, February 19, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 96


Smith knows pain of loss, struggle

By Audrey Warren
Daily Cougar Staff

Dominic Smith's cousin was like a sister to him. But when his family mourned her death in black, he donned a basketball jersey instead. It was one of the hardest times of his life.

By Lorrie Novosad/The Daily Cougar

Senior guard Dominic Smith is a team leader on and off the court. He leads the Cougars in both points and steals.

In her memory, the senior bears a tattoo: prayer hands with a message for God to watch over her. It can be seen from the stands now as the Cougar guard helps lead
the basketball team through its best season in years.

He's always loved basketball, life and his family. And though he's only 5-10, Smith has shown the enormous heart of a person who's struggled immensely and a player
who was long overlooked.

It was only a few years ago that Smith was a member of the obscure Paris Junior College basketball team getting passed over by coaches questioning his size.

But then the University of Pittsburgh came along. And Smith was almost a Panther until UH men's basketball head coach Ray McCallum showed up.

Smith wanted to play for a coach who understood players and had been in their shoes and he found that in McCallum a Ball State basketball legend who had also
made his way through seven-footers as a 5-10 guard.

Teammates kid the starter about his close ties with his coach. "The guys sometimes say, 'Go talk to your dad,' they call him my dad," Smith said. "And he's been like an
extra dad to me."

As his first recruit, McCallum said he saw a lot in Smith. "This kid was taking it to the rim on big guys," McCallum said. "He has an outstanding energy and quickness.
He's just a fearless player."

Now, just two years later, the two own a 7-5 Conference USA record and a 14-11 season record.

Smith has amassed impressive stats individually as well, including a career-high 38 points against Southern Mississippi in January. He led C-USA in steals per game
last season and leads the team in points and steals this season.

He's always been a guy who can hit the crucial shot, like the three-pointer against Memphis on Saturday with 46.3 seconds remaining that helped the Coogs to their
76-73 win. Or when he went 12-for-12 from the free-throw line for a Charlotte win last season with only 17 seconds on the clock.

He only expects the team to improve, but says hewishes to play at home in front of a "jam-packed crowd" before he leaves.

The Virginia-born Smith is the baby of the family, with four brothers and two sisters. Living in the Ashland area, his family had little money when he was young. And in
the four years he's been in Texas first at Paris, then Houston Smith said his mom has still not been able to visit him. He'll become the first in his family to graduate.

When his cousin died, it was because she did not receive the blood transfusion she needed. Without the money to fly to the funeral and a looming basketball game the
next day, Smith missed the ceremony. It's not the only loss he's experienced.

His other tattoos reflect past memories also, including a dedication to his grandmother who died and the words "life goes on."

"I had a cousin who died and always used to say, 'Whatever happens, life goes on,'" Smith said. It's a motto he's lived by with a struggle through acid reflux disease,
which can wear away the lining of the esophagus.

Smith competed last season before getting throat surgery to correct the ailment over the summer. He said another surgery may be needed when this season ends.

As a movie lover who touts a collection of hundreds, maybe Smith is somewhat like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America, one of his favorite comedies. He's come into a
place with intentions in mind, it's tough and trying at times, but in the end he'll have learned more about himself as he achieves his goals.

In May he plans to graduate with a business degree and pursue a career in the NBA. "I know I'm going to have to work hard. It's not going to be easy," he said.

And when he gets to the NBA, Smith said he'd love the opportunity to brag on his Cougars, of which he'll always be proud.

"I gave up a lot for basketball. God willing, I know it'll pay off."

Smith will help lead UH against Tulane at 7:30 tonight at Hofheinz.

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