A Tribute to Coach Kareem Smith

Kareem Smith (a.k.a. Buju)

About 8 years ago a young man approached me and asked if he could volunteer his services to help coach one of my teams.  He was soft spoken but very well spoken.  As I got to know him, I recognized that this man had a passion for the game.  However, his desire to teach and coach young men was coupled with an intense caring and nurturing heart.  He wanted to help young people.  He always worked very hard to give young student athletes the opportunity to compete against the best.  More importantly, he helped these students build their character and develop learning habits that went well beyond the basketball court.

I was privileged to help Kareem is his early formative years of coaching.  As he grew within our Minutemen organization, he took on ever increasing responsibilities both on and off the court.  As we all know, a coach is a teacher. One of the hardest things teachers face is the challenge of motivating their students.  The great ones develop a sixth sense to bring out the best in everyone. Great coaches build a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Kareem was a great one.

As a young man not yet 30, he had great success in coaching at Sacred Heart High School and then at Cardinal Spellman leading them to two CHSSA championship. On the tough AAU circuit he brought his Minutemen teams to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight in the National Championships. He justifiably could have been proud of his success, but true to his character, he remained the humble coach instead pushing his players into the spotlight.

I was always happy to be with him and share his good humor and enthusiasm. One of the best moments I have had in over 40 years of coaching basketball was being present to cheer him on when he won his first JV CHSAA championship.

John Wooden wrote a wonderful book entitled “They call me Coach”. In this book he describes the honor, regard and importance of that title.  The title “Coach” is not worn lightly. It is earned by the respect of one’s players and the dedicated, caring, selfless leadership of the individual. As Coach Wooden said “You can’t live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you”. Kareem you lived many a perfect day and everyone who had the good fortune to know you is the better for it. We proudly call you Coach.

May God bless you and your family

Stephen Marcellino

In life, sometimes you find yourself in positions that make no sense. You simply aren’t able to wrap your head around the things that are going on around you, and why things are the way they are. Today is one of those days. I have been devastated with the news of the passing of someone very, very close to me, Kareem Smith. See, the term “brother” can be loosely interpreted. The obvious definition is someone who arrived in this world via the same loving mother. But to me, Kareem was a brother. A coach, a mentor, a friend, a family member. I sit here at a loss of words. When someone you love is taken from you at the blink of an eye, your world suddenly changes. You learn to appreciate certain aspects of life more, but more importantly, you take what you have learned from that person and apply it to yourself. I do not have one bad word to say about Kareem. He was as great a person as he was a coach. He loved everyone of his players. And most devastating, he loved me. He was the type of person to check up on me every few weeks at school, just to see how I was doing and that he was behind me. The kind of person that taught character to his players, and not just basketball. The type of person that strived to turn kids headed down the wrong path to hit the brakes and take a new approach. I have a thousand words I could speak of Kareem, but I will simply keep them within my heart, filled with appreciation and honor to be allowed to know and become so close to a man so kind-hearted and loving. Your were just too young. We had too much to look forward to. We had dreams and aspirations for the Minutemen and for life itself. We had things to talk about, NBA opinions to justify, and too many things in life to look forward too. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It just wasn’t supposed to be like this. But, like I said, life doesn’t make sense sometimes. Death can break down anyone at any time, and in this case, it has broken me down. You’ll always be in my heart Buju, and I’ll never pick up a basketball again without you on my mind and in my heart. I love you not because your like family to me, but because you are family to me. And that is the pain I feel today. RIP Brother. I know we’ll kick it again someday.

-Written by Brian Kilkenny, one of his players

I’m completely at a lost for words as I sit here trying to gather my thoughts about what to say. When I got the call earlier this morning I didn’t want to believe the news and I still don’t. I keep telling myself this is a bad dream and i’l…l be hearing from you tomorrow, the reality of it still hasn’t sunk in. You’ve been my side guiding me since I was 8 years old and it hurts knowing you won’t be here to help celebrate my 21st birthday next week with me. Your passion for the game of basketball was like no others and you instilled a bit of that in me. I truly appreciate everything you’ve done for me on and off the court. I couldn’t have asked for better coach, brother, mentor, friend in this world. You had nothing but good intentions in your heart, you always put others first before yourself with no problem and was the most forgiving person I’ve ever encountered. I’ll never forget the countless number of championships I won with you, but more importantly I’ll never forget the life long lessons you’ve taught me. Sadly sometimes it takes a devastation like this for people to learn to appreciate life and the loved ones whom they share it with and not to take any day for granted because tomorrow is never guaranteed. It definitely wasn’t your time, you had just begun to add on to your life long accomplishments. I know i’ll never meet anybody as driven and as hard working as you were and no one who loved winning as much as you did I believe that’s why I am the way I am today. I’ll never pick up a basketball again without you on my mind. I love you Kareem Smith. I know your in a better place now looking down on me as I speak. I hope God has a court up in heaven and one day we’ll be able to play 1on1 for the last time….. Ps. I still want that contract extension lol…. Love you BRO !

-Written by Justin Rodriguez, one of his players