In the fluid motion of a natural shooter, Jamar Smith pulls up and releases from the 3-point arc.
From the right, the center, the left.
Dozens in a row, sweat pouring off him, the ball never bouncing on the parquet floor of the Portland Expo, as one coach rebounds, another dishes it back.
The smooth, constant motion is rhythmic and lulling.
It is the shot that pulled him from bed at 5:30 each morning before high school so he could get in at least 500 with his sister and their dad at a quiet gym in Peoria, Ill.
It is the shot that won him big games during his college career, first at Illinois then Southern Indiana.
It is the shot that has anchored his game, and his life, in a journey that took a very bad turn one snowy night in Illinois, but has veered back on course, bringing his sinewy 6-foot-3 frame to Maine.
Smith, 23, plays point guard for the Maine Red Claws and chases a dream to reach the NBA.
“It got me to where I am. I’ve always been a good shooter and it came from not being able to beat my sister,” said Smith. “We played in the driveway. The street. At the gym. In the dark. She was just better than me.”
His story is not all about 3-pointers and net.
It comes with a tale of caution – a hard lesson that nearly derailed a young life four years ago. Smith, 19 at the time, was involved in a high profile drunk-driving accident on the University of Illinois campus in February 2007.
He was the driver. In the passenger seat was Brian Carlwell, the Illini’s 6-11 center. Smith had been partying with friends before getting behind the wheel of his grandfather’s Lexus.
It was after 11 p.m. It was snowing and the roads were icy.
Police reports explain the details: Smith ran off the road and crashed into a tree, injuring Carlwell.
Heavily intoxicated, Smith drove back to his apartment, leaving Carlwell unconscious in the car. Carlwell was later rushed to the hospital. He had suffered a severe concussion.
Nearly four hours after the crash, Smith’s blood-alcohol level was measured at .124.
Smith was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence and served 15 days in jail.
The story doesn’t end there.
Several months later Smith violated probation when he was caught outside a bar with alcohol on his breath. He was dismissed from the team. He later transferred to Southern Indiana and resurrected his college career.
“I was a hard-headed college student. Going my own way,” he said. “At the time it was bad. But I try not to think about it anymore. I’m trying to take every opportunity I have.
“Illinois was a big party school. You went out. It’s what you did. I remember going to look at Southern Indiana with my grandfather.
“There was nothing to do. I remember thinking that was good for me.”
Carlwell, meanwhile, regained his health and transferred to San Diego State University.
Juandale Jordan, the man Smith calls dad, worried the game might affect his children in the way he’d seen so many times before.
His daughter, Britney Jordan, was a Peoria star. She was considered a better player than Jamar until he was junior in high school and still holds NCAA Division II scoring records set at the University of Texas A&M-Commerce.
“The basketball community really warps kids. It’s the one thing I hate about the sport,” said Juandale Jordan.
“At one point he believed all those alumni and fans loved him. I think it took those (tough) times to realize, you know what, these people love Jamar Smith the athlete. They don’t love Jamar.
“When he hit that hard road, those people turned their backs. Some people shunned him. Here’s a kid who has to live with the truth, and live with the pain of the truth.
“He had enough pride to say ‘I made this mistake. I’m going to swallow and continue to work hard.’ ”
Britney Jordan, now an assistant coach at Texas A&M-Commerce, has seen a transformation.
“I know he loves basketball. I’m happy for him, he’s living his dream,” said Jordan. “For me, as a big sister, though, what I’m most proud of is who he is as a man. What he’s faced and battled has made him a better man. A better father. A better brother. A better son. A better friend. When you grow as a person, you’re more than just an athlete.”
Smith is uncomfortable rehashing that dark night. But he also believes his story speaks volumes.
One day, he said, he will do speaking engagements with college students. He believes he might reach them.
“I think my story will speak to them. I will tell them what they think can’t happen to them really can,” said Smith. “I have gratitude for me getting into the trouble I did. It helped me put life into context.
“It showed me who my friends are. Who matters.”
Today what matters is his job and family, including his 3-year old son, Makhi, back in Peoria. Smith speaks with his son regularly through video chat over the Internet.
“He kind of walks behind the computer looking for me. It’s cute,” said Smith. “My biological father wasn’t a good father. Part of being a good father is being present. So now, I’m sacrificing that to better his future. I will make sure he goes to college.”
Smith is averaging 13.4 points a game for Maine. He has a team leading 4.8 assists per game, and plays about 30 minutes.
He was moved to the point guard position for its potential to get him to the NBA.
“I’ve seen him really grow on the court,” said Maine Coach Austin Ainge. “Off the court, he’s been unbelievable. Whatever troubles he had in the past, he’s been nothing but an upstanding person and terrific leader for us.”
Some nights, he gets the chance to power off 3s. His best night last month, he hit 6 of 7.
Mostly, he dishes off first, sometimes fighting hard the instinct to pull up and let one go. To find nothing but net.
Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]