Bartram star: Have game, will travel

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bartram's Shawn Bailey tries to escapeEsperanza's Nyfis Humbert's grab in battle for loose ball.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bartram's Shawn Bailey tries to escapeEsperanza's Nyfis Humbert's grab in battle for loose ball.
Posted: January 16, 2014

AN AS-YET nameless, faceless college basketball coach could someday make his way to Malik Smith's home on Hurley Street in Feltonville contemplating a scholarship offer for the 5-10 senior guard at John Bartram High.

Smith's abilities on the basketball court aren't likely to be at issue. The six schools on his high school transcript will be a different story.

So, what kind of coach would take a chance when so many other players also show promise?

"That's a tough question," Smith said. "A tough-minded coach that understands sometimes things happen, but maybe the kid is not the number of schools on his transcript."

On the basketball court, Smith possesses excellent court vision, coupled with herky-jerky ballhandling that can make defenders look silly. Add a knack for penetrating the lane and the courage to finish over big men, and you have a talented college prospect.

Yesterday, Smith's 21-point, seven-steal performance helped Bartram (10-5, 7-1) run away from Nueva Esperanza, 68-46, in a Public League B contest at the Rivera Recreation Center on 5th and Allegheny.

However, what will the young man tell a coach who is willing to invest in his future?

"I'll just basically tell him that I'm real humble and that at every school I went to, I always maintained good grades," Smith said. "I'm real hard-working. I strive for greatness. I keep going, keep pushing."

Multiple sources have attested to Smith's academic abilities. The young man reports a 3.5 GPA and a 1,150 SAT score.

His journey began as a freshman at Central, where Smith said he struggled with the amount and intensity of the work demanded by the school. A move to Del-Val Charter followed and Smith also moved in with his father near 13th and Lycoming.

Prep Charter was the next stop after Smith said his father, Ronald Smith, pulled him from DVC.

As a junior, Smith returned to Del-Val after moving back in with his mother, Syreeta Moore, in Feltonville. He also landed at Martin Luther King and Franklin Learning Center that same season.

Smith said an argument with King coach Sean Colson last season led to the FLC stint.

"I can say I lost my head on that one," Smith said, recalling an in-game argument over shot selection and playing time. "It was a bad situation for me individually. I think Sean Colson is a great coach, but we just couldn't [mesh]."

Now-former FLC coach Leonard Poole, a family friend, provided a brief landing spot until he was replaced by current coach Cedric L. Powell.

Poole was a retired teacher coaching at FLC, but was usurped by Powell, a physical education teacher, per a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Union rule granting preference to those in the building.

"I don't think his talent will be a question," Poole said of Smith yesterday in a phone interview. "Now, as with all kids, we have to worry about academics. When you float from school to school like that, you have to deal with the NCAA Clearinghouse."

The NCAA Clearinghouse helps determine student-athlete eligibility.

"I want to go to college and get my degree, and play basketball at a high level in college," Smith said.

Yesterday's level was mediocre early. Esperanza (8-7, 4-4) jumped out to a 10-3 lead, sparked by a Mohamed Sherif dunk to open the game. The 6-8 senior was the only Toro in double figures (15 points, along with 13 rebounds and two blocks).

Bartram eventually responded with a 21-5 advantage in the second quarter, which yielded a 32-18 halftime cushion.

The Braves' defensive intensity forced Esperanza into 15 turnovers in the half and 30 for the game. Senior guard Kevin Brown (13 points) and junior guard Shawn Bailey (12) were the other Braves with double-figure points.

First-year Bartram coach Andre Brown said Smith has gelled well with his new teammates and has been a positive force for the team.

Esperanza's Hyking Brisbon, a 6-5 senior forward who also left FLC when Poole was replaced, scored seven points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. Toros coach Steve Kikendall said he didn't play senior guard Briheam Anthony for academic reasons.

As for Smith, he is hopeful he can put a name and a face to a willing college coach. He laments not sticking it out at Central, which he said would have provided academic stability with basketball "as a bonus."

Smith fancies himself a writer, and referenced a research paper he wrote on NBA star Chris Paul, a player he emulates on the court.

However, if Smith was writing about his own journey thus far . . .

"I'd end the story," he said, "by saying that people didn't think I would be in a good situation, but I found a way."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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