When Sean Farr takes the court for Baltimore City Community College on Tuesday in Danville, Ill., in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II men's basketball tournament, he'll have his friend and teammate Carlos Smith to thank.
And Farr's thoughts won't be far from his late father, Sean.
Basketball wasn't in Farr's plans when he was a senior at Dunbar in 2009. Considered to be one of the top 50 wide receiver recruits in the nation, he originally signed with Louisville to play football.
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Baltimore City Community College, 2901 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21215, USA
"When I first came out of high school I was only recruited for football," Farr said. "I decided to play football, but I knew in the back of my mind that my father wanted me to play basketball."
His path back to the court was like a broken-field run.
Farr spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., to meet NCAA qualifying standards and when Louisville made a coaching change, he decided to attend Memphis instead. While redshirting there as a freshman, however, an issue arose with his SAT score, so Farr transferred to Division II California, Pa.
Then, Farr's father died in the fall of 2010. The tug of home brought the young athlete back to Baltimore.
"Whatever path [Farr] was on at that time … he kind of hit a bump in the road," BCCC basketball coach Terry Maczko said.
It was then that Farr's close friend and future teammate Smith, who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds his senior year at Forest Park, encouraged him to attend open gyms at BCCC and to start thinking about basketball again.
"When I first decided to come back [to Baltimore from Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina], the first thing I thought about was Sean," Smith said. "I've played with him before. We have a connection on the court. … We hadn't played [together] in two years, but at that first open gym, I just knew something special was going to happen."
Smith's encouragement and his late father's love for basketball was enough to get Farr, who averaged 18 points and six rebounds as a high school senior, back onto the court.
Farr says he is "definitely" honoring his father with his play; it means even more to Farr that he is able to succeed so close to home.
"It means a lot to my whole family because they can come out and see me anytime," Farr said.
Farr's decision to play basketball in Baltimore is paying dividends for the Panthers' and Farr's future. Smith and Farr have become one of the best one-two punches in junior college ball, and their work resulted in the team's first Region XX title since 1998. Smith has been getting Division I looks from eight or nine schools, including Robert Morris, Saint Peter's and Iona, Maczko said.
Farr, who had to sit out the first semester because of his grades, has been a big factor in Panthers' rise and recently was named Most Valuable Player of the regional tournament.
"The first game he played he had an immediate impact," Mackzo said.
Smith was itching for Farr to get on the court with him throughout the first part of the season. When Farr became eligible to play, Smith knew the Panthers would have something special.
"That first game [together] came and I said to him, 'Just do what we do together. ... It's Lob City. There's going to be a lot of highlights,'" Smith said. "I knew we could add national championship to our list [of goals]."
Farr says his days as a college football player have helped him in basketball.
Farr has developed a nose for the basketball, which, according to Maczko, can be attributed to his time in football. When there is a loose ball around the rim Farr "just wants to go up and get it," the coach says.
BCCC (23-10) will open play in the double-elimination NJCAA tournament against Region III champion and sixth-seeded Erie (N.Y.) Community College (24-4) at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
If they win the opening-round game, the Panthers will play at 9 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of third-seeded Rhode Island vs. MCC-Penn Valley. If they lose, they'll take on the loser of Rhode Island-Penn Valley at 10 a.m. Thursday.
BCCC hopes to use its depth to make an extended run. All five starters average in double figures, and the combination of Baltimore buddies Farr and Smith is averaging 32 points.
"We are a very difficult matchup for our opponents," Maczko said. "You really can't focus in on one guy."