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Journey man: Former Molloy star finds peace in CUNY

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But instead, four years later, Smith celebrated his final home game as a collegiate senior Monday night at Hunter College in front of less than 100 spectators. The highly touted point guard out of Archbishop Molloy could never have imagined that."Never in a million years," the Bronx native said.His path to Midtown Manhattan was a meandering one. After graduating from Molloy in 2003, Smith left for Penn State, a school he chose over a plethora of suitors, including St. John's, Seton Hall, Rutgers and West Virginia. He was Nittany Lions coach Ed Chellis' first recruit and finished up the 2003-04 season second on the team in scoring (13.4 points per game). Smith's college career looked promising in one of the country's premier conferences. But then, in January 2005, his sophomore season was curtailed midway through courtesy of a scary affliction: Smith had a hole in his heart. It's not an uncommon problem - one out of every three people have it, Smith said doctors told him. But because he was an athlete and pushed himself physically day after day, the hole caused a mild stroke and a blood clot in his brain. A poor diet also contributed to the problems.Smith noticed something wrong after two weeks straight with a constant, painful migraine. It got worse when Smith lost feeling in the extremities on the left side of his body."If somebody had a gun and shot me, I wouldn't have felt it in my left arm or leg," he said.Smith tried to ignore it until he collapsed in practice one day, coming back on defense after nailing a three-pointer. He was rushed to the hospital, where he found out about the hole."It was a mild stroke," Smith said. "I didn't think anything of it. I knew I was gonna be OK at the end of the day."And he was. Doctors were able to fill the small opening in his heart with a tiny metal plate and improve circulation. Smith spent about a week in the hospital but was forced to miss the rest of his sophomore season.After the school year ended, with the health problems on his mind, he decided he wanted to be closer to home. Smith left for Fordham University that summer and had to sit out the entire 2005-06 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He never donned a Rams uniform, though. Before the start of the 2006-07 season, Smith was accused of plagiarism by a professor. Smith claims it was a rough draft paper and never meant to be handed in. The professor brought the situation up with a dean at the school. Smith was expelled."Basically, I had no due process," Smith said. "It was just me and the dean."It had been more than a year and a half since he played college basketball and Smith didn't want to sit out any longer. He transferred to Robert Morris College in Chicago, an NAIA school that would let him play the 2006-07 season. Smith helped lead the Eagles to the NAIA final four last season, but things didn't end well there. He was declared ineligible for this season. Enter Chris Bernard. Smith and Bernard, a former Hunter College standout, were close and Bernard had been touting the Hawks and coach Nick Plevritis to Smith all summer. Smith left Robert Morris in the fall and arrived at Hunter, a Division III school that plays in the CUNY Athletic Conference, in the beginning of December.Obviously, Plevritis is happy to have him. Hunter is 6-4 since Smith, whose eligibiblity is up after the season, came aboard midseason and the Hawks are in first place in the CUNY North Division.Smith is averaging 19 points, 5.6 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game."He's so strong, people don't realize how strong he really is," Plevritis said of Smith's oncourt ability, though he could easily have been talking about the 6-foot point guard off the court. "When he turns it on, he's unstoppable in our league."Most of all, Smith is happy now. He calls the difference between Division I and Division III "material" and appreciates the humility of Plevritis as well as the modesty of Hunter's facilities.Smith is living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and will graduate from Hunter in the summer with a degree in economics, three schools removed from Penn State. And that's OK with him."I'd say I would have done some things differently," Smith said. "But I have no regrets."Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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