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Overlea grad a last-minute hero for Widener basketball team

More than anything, Widener junior guard BJ Smith's college basketball career to this point is defined by impeccable timing.

While most players only dream about draining a desperation shot at the buzzer to carry a team to victory, Smith, an Overlea High grad, has lived it. Not once, but twice.

His most recent heroics came on the Pride's home court in Chester, Pa., on Jan. 15 when he banked home a 65-foot heave that completed an improbable last-minute rally to beat Commonwealth Conference rival Lebanon Valley, 71-70.

Even more improbable: the 5-foot-9 Smith beat the same team last year with a 35-footer as time expired — this time finding nothing but net for a 66-65 win.

For Smith, ending up underneath a pile of ecstatic teammates at midcourt after a thrilling win never gets old.

"It's just a great feeling when you hit a game-winner and I've been fortunate enough to hit two of them," he said. "Everyone is excited and it gives us a greater bond as a team. We were already a close-knit team this season, but the shot has made us that much closer."

Smith came to Widener with considerable experience in last-second magic on the basketball court. As a high school sophomore playing on junior varsity at Overlea, he came through with a 3-pointer at the buzzer on a designed play.

When he was 10, playing recreation ball in Essex, he hit a long-range shot to win a playoff game. He remains friends with many of his teammates from that team and will never forget the feeling he had that day.

It turned out that night was pretty special, too.

"When I was younger, my parents would always reward me when I excelled in academics or athletics. After the game, we went shopping and I got a new pair of tennis shoes. I was wearing them to school the next day — it was a pretty big deal for me," Smith said.

Smith's contributions to the Pride basketball team don't just come at the end of games. After seeing limited but valuable playing time as a freshman on a senior-laden team that captured the conference title, he worked his way into the starting lineup last year and has developed into a leader this season.

Smith, a criminal justice major, averages 8.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, defends relentlessly and sets an example in practice with hard work. After most practices, he stays on the court to have a friendly contest with volunteer assistant coach Lou DeCarlo — first to make three half-court shots wins.

It's proven to be time well spent for Smith.

"He brings a lot of energy every day and he really works hard on his game as much as he can," said Widener coach Chris Carideo. "He's really put the time in, he's a hard worker and become a really good teammate. There are a lot of good things to say about BJ."

Before Smith could become a hero in the team's most recent win against Lebanon Valley, the Pride, now 9-9, had to first believe. The team trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half and was down 67-60 with 46 seconds left.

Enter Smith.

Before his last-second 3-pointer, he hit two other 3s — including a tough one in the right corner to cut the deficit to 70-68 with 2.3 seconds left.

The Pride fouled before the ball was inbounded to send Joe Meehan, Lebanon Valley's top scorer, to the foul line.

After he missed the first, his second one hit the front rim with Widener senior forward Jarrell Nelson grabbing the rebound. Coincidentally, he also had the rebound to set up Smith's game-winning shot the year before against Lebanon Valley, so he knew exactly who to look for.

"As soon as I got the rebound, [Smith] called my name. He took one dribble and let it fly. I was looking … it was in the air forever… and as soon as it banked in, it was just pandemonium everywhere," Nelson said. "He just has a knack for those things."

Smith finished the game with 20 points and the team gained a valuable lesson.

"We were down all game and Coach is always telling us to play the game out and never give up," said Smith, who is scheduled to graduate on time next May.

Said Carideo: "Hopefully we can build on that the rest of the way and if we need a last-second shot, I certainly know who I'm going to hand the ball to."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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