Editorial: King of the court of wasted chances

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

In the end, Jamar Smith made it easy on the University of Illinois' basketball program to say goodbye to him.

The former Richwoods High School star was arrested last week following an encounter with Champaign police outside a campus bar at 2 a.m. on a recent Friday. Reportedly, the 21-year-old Smith admitted to police that he'd consumed three beers, in alleged violation of his probation for a 2007 aggravated DUI conviction following an accident that severely injured a teammate.

Smith got off relatively easy that time, serving 14 days in jail as part of a plea bargain that dropped the felony charge of fleeing the scene of an accident with injury and included his agreement to abstain from alcohol for two years. From the looks of his destroyed vehicle, Smith was fortunate to be alive.

The basketball program also cut him a break, suspending him from play for the 2007-08 season but allowing him to return for the coming one, for what could have been a dismissable offense.

Ah, but the multiple opportunities Smith was granted still weren't exhausted. In the altercation at the bar in Champaign, police originally dispersed the crowd. Smith could have walked away without incident, but according to police, continued to return to the scene. The third time was the charm for him.

Ultimately, neither the university nor its men's basketball program can afford the reputation of tolerating/rewarding athletes who behave as Smith allegedly does. Head Coach Bruce Weber sounded disappointed to lose perhaps his best player, but acknowledged in a statement that Smith "left me with no other recourse" but to dismiss him from the team.

Of course, Smith's basketball career is the least of his worries. Potentially, he now faces up to 12 years in prison and a $25,000 fine (though his alleged transgression clearly does not rise to that level of punishment). His lawyer has denied the charge against him. His next court date is Sept. 17.

That should give Smith some time to think, because apparently he just doesn't get how lucky he was to get a free college education based on his ability to play a game with great skill.

We recognize his youth. We recognize the burden of the spotlight - if also the gift of the allowances - that athletes receive. We recognize that as sins go, having a few beers does not top the list. But if what has been alleged here is true, we just wish Smith had given a little more consideration and respect to the extra chances he was given, to the adults who provided them, to the community from which he came, to those kids who may have looked up to him, and mostly to himself. He went into this with eyes wide open.

There's no getting around it, no soft-pedaling the obvious: Smith blew it.

Meanwhile, this appears to be one more sad story of a jock who could cut it on the court but not off it, another symbol of opportunity squandered. Were the beers worth it? Smith needs to turn things around for himself.

Peoria Journal Star