Mac Engel

As Fort Worth legend’s hoops career nears its end, his next job is being a role model

Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel tries out for XFL football, how do you think he did?

More than 100 football players tried out for XFL in Arlington and they let Mac Engel run through some drills. Check out how he does.
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More than 100 football players tried out for XFL in Arlington and they let Mac Engel run through some drills. Check out how he does.

Jeremis Smith doesn’t have to be here, neither in Fort Worth nor at this barbecue spot of his choice.

One of the best basketball players in the history of Fort Worth, and Dunbar High School, Smith is here because it is his responsibility. It’s his calling.

Anyone who looked at Smith would say, “Good for him. He made it.”

“Then you obviously don’t know me like you think you do,” Smith said, “because you have not followed my life on a personal level. Basketball is not ‘makin’ it.’ Making a lot of money is not ‘making it’ to me.”

Smith played four years at Georgia Tech and graduated with his degree. Now 33, he makes good money playing basketball overseas.

That is not the definition of “Makin’ It.”

“Makin’ it is understanding my personal struggles and overcoming those personal battles and my vices in life,” Smith said. “Overcoming those, that’s making it. Taking care of my family, that’s making it. It’s not, ‘Here is $100,000 for a home,’ or buying things. It’s about educating my mom or my sister on financial credit. It’s about teaching other people in my family about financial literacy. It’s about helping my family.

“People leaning on me for that sort of help and advice? To me that’s ‘making it.’”

Guys who leave, or have “made it,” talk big about giving back. Many don’t. Jeremis Smith does. The man lives it.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday at Dunbar High School, he and former Dunbar player Chris Roberts will hold a free basketball clinic for kids of any age. Former teammate Dominique Dawson will be on site with his food truck, OMGMrMunchiesJr.

JEREMIS SMITH IS NEARING THE END OF BASKETBALL

On this day, Smith sits in a table at Robinson’s Barbecue having just finished a long workout of basketball with, among others, New York Knicks guard Emanuel Mudiay.

Smith’s right knee has sport tape, and it looks more like a grapefruit.

The broken leg he suffered at Dunbar, and the knee he dislocated at Georgia Tech, are OK but not right.

Smith knows he has maybe one more year left of pro basketball in his body, and specifically that knee. He has played in leagues in Mexico, Israel, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela. He said he anticipates he will finish his career after one more year in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.

Like any guy who has spent time chasing ball overseas, he has stories. Once on a road trip in Mexico, he and his entire team were pulled off the bus and a crew of “soldiers” pointed guns at them. Someone had to explain to the “soldiers” that they were a local basketball team headed to a game.

“I live with zero regret. The trajectory of my life has been exactly what God was meaning for it to be,” Smith said. “I am here at home. I might be hurt. My mom might have had breast cancer. I am here serving my purpose.”

LIVING THE PURPOSE

Smith recently attended a stakeholders meeting in the Stop Six neighborhood to discuss a potential project. The kid who grew up in the area is now the adult leading the area.

After the meeting was over, Smith was approached by an older gentleman who said, “I have seen you do some great things on the court. I have seen you do great things off the court. Seeing you here is my proudest moment of you.”

“That,” Smith said, “gave me goosebumps.”

Smith created a foundation in the name of his former teammate, Jeffrey Muriel, who was killed on Aug. 7, 2005 by a drunk driver.

Smith’s purpose is simply to be a role model for fellow African American kids. To embody Muriel.

“He had no business being on our (state championship) team. He was so small, but he worked harder than anybody,” Smith said. “He had the highest SAT score. He was going to run through a wall if he had to. He was a no excuses guy.”

Smith is hardly oblivious to the challenges and realities facing his community. He loves, and is loyal to, Fort Worth, but he is not blind to the realities of his old neighborhood.

He simply will not allow those realities to be excuses.

“(Kids) need to see successful black men outside of athletes or entertainers,” he said. “Everything is a trend now. A black kid gets killed and he becomes a hashtag for a week, and we forget about it.

“You can’t quit, or give up on anybody. There is no lost cause. Let’s outlast all of the stigmas and stereotypes, and work to get it done.”

That’s what Smith wants to be. That’s what he is doing.

Jeremis Smith has enough money to be anywhere, but he is back here in Fort Worth by choice.

That is “Makin’ it.”

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