CROWN POINT | Joseph Smith wears LeBron James' No. 6. If only LeBron had Smith's intensity.
While James and the rest of the Miami Heat have down-shifted to coast for the remainder of the regular season, Smith is permanently set on high-octane urgency.
With his nifty left-handed jumper, open-court finishing prowess and relentless defense, Smith helped the Crown Point Bulldogs stay in the game against the Porter County Boilermakers during the championship final of the Samuel J. Balicki Memorial Special Needs Basketball Tournament, March 15 at Crown Point High School.
Even when he took a spell on the bench, Smith was animated.
"Come on you guys! Play some defense!" Smith cajoled while acting as a hard-nosed assistant to Bulldogs coach Branden Lorek.
Despite the effort from Smith and his teammates, the Boilermakers — a perennial Special Olympics Indiana State Basketball Tournament qualifier — were able to utilize their deft ball movement while passing out of swarming double-teams and finding the open man to pull away in the fourth quarter to win 36-29.
"I know this is special needs basketball and things like double-dribbling and traveling don't get called that much," Boilermakers coach Nick Simon said, "but we still want to make sure that they learn how to play the game and improve throughout the year.
"We hold practice once a week, and that's where we stress things like ball movement ... good passing, good dribbling and good defense. You can see, that's what often sets us apart."
Led by point guard Jackson Simon, who was among the skills competition champions at the tourney, and the sharp shooting of swing man Kyle Beard, the Boilermakers went on a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter after trailing 27-26 after three.
The high school-aged tourney featured four teams including two West Lake All-Stars squads mainly comprised of players from Lowell, Lake Central and Munster high schools.
Crown Point has hosted special needs basketball tournaments for several years, usually a week or two before the Special Olympics State Tournament.
"But this was the first one we had in memory of Sammy," Lorek said in reference to Balicki, who died in 2010 due to complications from granulomatosis with polyangiitis — formerly known as "Wegener's Disease."
Balicki was 20.
"Sammy was a member of our team, and he just loved basketball as well as other sports," Lorek said of Balicki, who also courageously played Challenger Baseball even while aided with an oxygen tank.