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When Tarese Hatch and Eugene Smith Jr. married recently, the couple released doves in honor of their commitment. The pair could have just as easily tossed up a couple of basketballs. The game has been a constant in their lives since they were kids. And it was their love of basketball that brought them together.

Eugene began playing ball at age 8. He was on rec-league teams and spent most of his spare time in pickup games before going on to play for Eastern High School. He still plays for the New Psalmist Baptist Church team in Baltimore.

Tarese didn't get the basketball bug until she was 14. She played at Walbrook Senior High School. Her career continued at Coppin State College, and she still plays basketball and volleyball in local women's leagues.

Eugene and Tarese met in 1987 at the Greenmount Recreation Center. Eugene was a regular pickup player at the East Baltimore gym. Tarese was on a team that practiced there. Her coach was a friend of Eugene's, and one of her teammates once worked for him, so Eugene often attended the team's games.

In the decade or so that followed, Eugene and Tarese ran into each other a few times a week as they played and practiced at Greenmount. Sometimes they would chat, talking in the easy manner people adopt when they don't feel the need to impress someone.

Once the couple even discussed what they both considered a serious subject: marriage. Tarese swore she'd never marry. Eugene, who was divorced, was sure he'd marry again if he found the right person.

Looking back, Eugene and Tarese say there was a mutual attraction. But the timing never seemed right. Outside the gym, their lives moved in different directions. Eugene was building his business, ENS Title Services in Baltimore. Tarese was busy attending Coppin State. (She graduated in 1993 with a degree in criminal justice and has since become a correctional case manager for Baltimore's Department of Pre-Trial and Detention Services.)

During the 12 years that passed from their initial introduction, Eugene did try to get Tarese's attention, though.

"Every time I saw him, he used to always say to me, 'Call me and let me know if you ever want me to take you out,' " Tarese recalls, laughing.

In January 1999 she took him up on the offer.

Tired of relationships that hadn't worked out, Tarese says she thought it was time to call someone "I knew was definitely a nice guy."

Their movie date was a success, and other dates followed, including a bus trip with members of Tarese's church. In February, Tarese and her daughter Ijeoma moved to Pikesville. By April, Eugene was living there, and his daughter Ravyn was spending the weekends.

Eugene didn't worry about how quickly the relationship was progressing. In fact, he told Tarese he wanted to marry her a few weeks after they began dating.

"I wasn't too cautious because it seemed like I waited forever to get her to go on a first date," he explains.

Last May, Eugene proposed before more than 50 of the couple's family and friends at a barbecue he and Tarese held at their home.

On April 8, Eugene, 33, and Tarese, 30, married at her church, New Rehoboth Baptist Church in Woodlawn. Their daughters were the flower girls. Tarese was escorted down the aisle by her uncle Bobby Lockhart and her great-uncle Joe Curtis, who honored the memory of Tarese's father, the late Bernard Hatch. Her mother, Jacquelyn Lockhart of Woodlawn, and Eugene's father, Eugene Smith Sr. of East Baltimore, were among the 275 guests. Eugene's late mother, Bessie Mae Peterson, was fondly remembered throughout the evening.

After a honeymoon in the Pocono Mountains, Eugene and Tarese have returned to their routine of work, raising their daughters and, of course, playing basketball.

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