Here's what Corey Spence remembers about that late-November night: leaving a party, hopping into the passenger's seat of his friend's car, waking up in the hospital.
Spence, Dunbar's senior point guard, had fallen asleep on the drive from Baltimore County back into the city. Sometime after that, near the county line on Pulaski Highway, the car crashed into a utility pole. Spence said he woke up for a second, then blacked out almost immediately.
"When I got to the hospital, when I first arrived, my father asked the doctor [about my condition]," Spence said. "And he was like, 'It's a 50-50 chance.' If I made it through the first night, I'd be good."
Spence awoke the next morning with a chipped bone in his pelvis, internal bleeding, several bruises, a cut on his liver, a cut on his kidney and a contusion of the heart. His friend, the driver, suffered bruised ribs. The doctors said Spence's muscular 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame was crucial for his survival.While Spence lay in his hospital bed and entertained hundreds of visitors – family, friends, coaches and Poets legend Sam Cassell, among others – thoughts of survival turned to dreams of basketball.
"I had asked the coaches and doctor if I was going to play again," Spence said. "He said, 'Yes, but it's going to take a lot of work.' So after I got out, I did what I had to do to get back on the basketball court."
The first step in Spence's recovery was regaining his strength. Down to just 130 pounds, Spence started working out with Dunbar football coach Lawrence Smith, who tailored a weight-training and nutritional program to meet Spence's needs. About a month after Spence was released from the hospital, he was ready to reclaim his role as Dunbar's starting point guard.
"By the time we played City and Lake Clifton, I was 100 percent," Spence said. "Those were actually my best games. Against Lake Clifton I had 21, and against City I had 16."
With Spence back in the lineup, Dunbar cruised to Comcast Center. The Poets topped Owings Mills in the Class 1A championship game for their 12th state title.
"I was very fortunate because that was our first championship in about five years," said Spence, who averaged about 12 points and eight assists. "We've been playing to win a championship since ninth-grade year. But we came along and actually won it, so it feels good."
Spence graduated from Dunbar in June with his college plans still in flux. The car accident was a setback both athletically and academically, as Spence came up just short of NCAA qualifying standards. Soon after it became clear Division I basketball wouldn't be an option for Spence this year, his mother started researching prep schools. She eventually stumbled upon Bridgton Academy in Maine, and after a few discussions with the coaches, Spence signed on to play for the Wolverines.
"I just came back from visiting three weeks ago," Spence said. "It's cool. The whole town revolves around the school, really. It's basically, you go there for a year, do what you need to do and get [to college]."
Spence, who's playing with D.C. Assault on the AAU circuit this summer, said he has garnered interest from Bucknell, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Emory, Howard, Loyola, Mount St. Mary's, Northeastern, Rhode Island, Stony Brook, Tulsa and Vermont.
Spence hopes to pick up more scholarship offers before he leaves for Maine next month. While he's focused on basketball this summer, he remains grateful to everyone who aided his improbable comeback.
"It was real difficult. It was just like everything was mental," Spence said. "I had lost a lot of weight, lost my speed. So it was real hard. But I was surprised I came back as early as I did. ... It just makes me think that I'm blessed. I was really blessed to make it through that day."
Baltimore Sun photo of Corey Spence by Karl Merton Ferron / March 12, 2010