Ex-Hoya Smith gets a second shot

By Athelia Knight
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 31, 1994

HARRISBURG, PA. -- Wearing a jersey without his name, former Georgetown and Boston Celtics point guard Charles Smith came off the bench Wednesday. The matchup was Smith's team -- the Hartford Hellcats -- vs. the Harrisburg Hammerheads, both members of the Continental Basketball Association, the minor league of basketball. And the venue was the Farm Show Arena, a cavernous, more than half-empty place used often for cattle, swine and poultry shows, where a portable basketball floor had been placed on top of the usual dirt floor for the night.

Smith, 27, had arrived with the team only a week before, and the official jersey bearing his name wasn't ready. But he seemed ready to play, scoring 15 points, second-highest on his team.

The CBA is often a place where players compete on the way up to the National Basketball Association, or a place where they land on the way down. Smith is not sure which path he's on.

"I know I have the ability to play in the NBA," Smith said in the locker room after Wednesday's game. "But, you know, some teams are afraid to pick me up because of what I have gone through the last couple of years. I'm not a bad person at all. I don't know how much that experience is going to affect my reentering the NBA."

That experience is a March 1991 hit and run, in which Smith -- then with the Celtics -- killed two young women, both Boston University students.

Smith was convicted of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison in March 1992. He became eligible for parole last March and was released last July 26, according to Gerard Lydon, a spokesman for the Suffolk County sheriff's department.

"It was a tough experience," Smith says of the incident and his incarceration. "I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone. I realize that my situation could have happened to anyone. ... Unfortunately it happened to me. I wish I could do something to bring the lives back. But I can't. I just have to pray every day to ask God for strength. And also pray for the families {so} that they can deal with what happened. It was a tragic accident."

Smith is reluctant to talk further. "I have been legally advised not to speak about my incarceration," he said.

Hellcats Coach Paul Mokeski said that despite Smith's tough times, he hopes playing in the CBA will give Smith a chance to get back to the NBA. "I think he has paid his price, a great price, a dear price: his freedom for two years," Mokeski said. "With what he's gone through, I think it has built his character. There are a lot of guys in this league who have had second chances and third chances. And the CBA is a league of dreams. ...

"We are here for guys like Charles. He is not allowed to slip up either. He knows that and everybody else knows that. And rather than closing the door on someone as talented as Charles, he paid his dues. ... Let's give him a chance, another opportunity to see if he can make the best out of it."

Smith appeared in 60 games with the Boston Celtics as rookie in 1989-90. He played in five games with the Celtics in 1990-91 and in 20 CBA games that same year. Wednesday night, Smith -- who attended the now-closed All Saints High School in the District -- said he is pleased to be playing basketball again. "It's nice to know that organizations are interested in me," he said before the game as he watched two local girls' basketball teams play.

At the time of the incident, Smith was under on a 10-day contract with the Celtics. After the incident, the Celtics did not renew his contract. But his rights were retained by the CBA's Rockford Lightning.

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