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Osceola's Smith: Short on notice, long on ability // The unknown Warrior averages 22

"Hello, Osceola High School, a quality experience," said the voice on the phone. "Excuse me, but do you know who Donnie Smith is?"

"No, but I can find out for you," the woman answered.

Somehow, some way, the parade keeps passing Donnie Smith by. The Osceola forward regularly outperforms Pinellas's better players, starts on several area all-star teams and even broke a school scoring record. Yet no one seems to know who Smith is - not even people at his own school.

You thought James "Buster" Douglas was an unknown.

"Nobody knows about me," Smith says, looking puzzled by his own words.

"What is it that you want to know about him?" a woman in the teacher's lounge asked.

"Who exactly is he?" I asked.

"Well, he's a fine boy," the woman said.

"Does he go to school at Osceola?" I asked.

"Well, I'm not sure. I don't know him very well," she said.

It only takes a couple of minutes of watching Smith on a basketball court to see that he's worthy of notice. Against Lakewood on Tuesday, Smith knifed through a lane crowded with Spartans, put up a double-clutch underhanded shot, drew a foul and made the basket.

Later, he made the same move, only he flipped the ball to a teammate along the baseline to set up a rim-hanging slam.

Going into next week's Class 3A, District 11 boys tournament, Smith, a junior, is averaging 22 points - second best in the county.

He has posted five 30-plus games. He also is second on the team in rebounds, averaging four.

In a game against Tarpon Springs, Smith scored 40 points, breaking the school record of 35. "They just played zone (defense), and I just took them apart," Smith said.

At school the next day, his point total was announced over the

public-address system, but there was no mention of it being a school record, Smith said.

It's the same thing every morning, Smith said. He reads the local

newspapers and watches the local sportscasts daily, but the stories are always about other players. Ask someone who the area's best players are and few will list Smith. Still fewer realize Smith has earned Most Valuable Player honors on AAU and Police Athletic League teams that have included Gibbs' Bill Teal, Lakewood's Louis Rowe and Northeast's Ben Gainer.

"In this county, he's definitely an unknown," Osceola coach Elbert Crumb said, "but he's a tremendous basketball player. We ask him to do a lot of things. He has tremendous jumping ability, so he crashes the boards, and at the same time he can go inside with the big guys."

Playing on a high-profile team such as Gibbs or Clearwater would help Smith's stature. The Warriors, despite almost upsetting Lakewood on Tuesday, are 4-19 and have not won a district title in their 10 years. They never even have had a winning season.

"And that makes it hard when you get a Donnie Smith to get him

recognized," Crumb said.

Although not one to complain about a lack of recognition, Smith admits it gets to him sometimes.

"I read the stories about Bill and Louis. They're always telling me about the letters they're getting from all these big schools (colleges). You get frustrated a little," Smith said. "I really wanted to play for a winning team, but my dad tells me to just, 'Go out and get yours.' " Playing for a winner meant so much to Smith that at the start of this season his parents considered arranging for him to transfer to Dixie Hollins, a traditional Pinellas County Conference contender.

Donnie's maternal grandmother lives in the Dixie Hollins zone, and his parents went so far as to have Smith's legal guardianship changed to his grandmother.

"But we found out (Pinellas County School Board) rules said he would have to sit out a year, so we said forget it," John Smith said.

Smith said he will stick it out at Osceola the rest of the season and next. A B-average student, he is thinking about college. So far, though, only Florida, South Florida and Florida Southern have expressed interest.

"I'd like to play at a Division I school," Smith said. "It doesn't matter which one. I just don't want to go too far away from home - not like Michigan or someplace."

"Donnie Smith?" wondered the person who answered the phone in the guidance office. "Isn't he a senior at our school?"

Close enough.