When Family’s All You Got

The Ricardo Smith Story 

By Kevin Schrock

It was just another normal day for Ricardo Smith on the campus of the University of Findlay. Independent, that was the way Smith had become accustomed to living his normal days. This particular afternoon he was in the company of his teammates and coaches helping younger kids learn the game he loved. He was helping out at a basketball camp in the Koehler Fitness and Recreation Center when his world was turned upside down, again.

Life hadn’t always been easy for Smith growing up in Toledo where his Mom had passed away from a stroke when he was only 12 years old.

“My mom was my best friend when I was young,” said Smith. “Everyone had their own rooms in the house but I always chose to sleep with my Mom and give her a hug and kiss goodnight.”

His father was never involved in his life, so at the time his mother passed away Smith decided to move to the north side of Toledo to stay with his brother, Ricky Layson.

“He became my best friend,” said Smith. “Even when we were younger he used to pick me up from my mom’s and we had developed a connection that way.”

Throughout living with his brother he continued to play basketball. After middle school he attended St John’s Jesuit High School and Academy for his freshman and sophomore years. After that it was decided that he would be moving again.

Smith’s final two years of high school were spent at Toledo Whitmer where he became a standout on the basketball court. His junior year he was a second team all conference pick, and then his senior year he was first team all conference, first team all district, and even earned honorable mention all Ohio honors.

All of these accolades were enough to catch the eye of a Division II school an hour down I-75.

“I knew he (Smith) had what it took to win at this level,” said University of Findlay head basketball coach Charlie Ernst. “I also knew he was a good student and that he had taken care of himself in a lot of ways growing up so I knew that transition from high school to college for him wasn’t going to be as big of a deal.”

After seeking the advice of his brother, Smith decided that becoming an Oiler would be in his best interest.

“We talked about it and me and him both felt that it was a good fit,” said Smith. “The first year I was here he came to every game and was right by my side through it all.”

During that year Smith was already receiving regular minutes, playing in twenty-seven games averaging just over three points a game.

Following his freshman year Smith stayed on campus with the team over part of the summer to take classes and help out with basketball activities. That’s just what he was doing on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.

“It was a normal day, a very normal day,” said Smith. “We were on break eating pizza with the team when I got a call from my brothers long time fiancée.”

Smith’s normal day had taken a dramatic turn. Layson, his brother and best friend, had been shot. It was apparent by the phone call that he was in serious condition.

“My head just went blank,” said Smith. “I left for Toledo right away without even telling my teammates or coaches. My head was spinning with questions about what happened and why it happened.”

When he got to the hospital Smith had gained some hope that his brother would pull through. Things were looking hopeful that the doctors would possibly be able to get the bullets out and Layson would be able to recover. Maybe the 19-year-old would be spared going through such a tragedy for the second time.

After a few hours had passed the doctor came back out. Smith knew in his gut it was going to be bad.

“Its one of those moments you see on movies and here I am living it,” Smith said. “The doctor asks the family to go into another room so that they can tell you the news. Right there and then my whole mood just changed.”

That doctor broke the terrible news to Smith, his family and friends. Two bullets to the chest had resulted in internal bleeding which caused Layson’s death.

“I lost it in the hospital,” Smith said. “To have to deal with that type of loss for the second time was even tougher than the first time.”

That night Coach Ernst and a few teammates actually took time off to come up to Toledo and check on Smith and talk with his family.

“I wanted to be there for him,” said Ernst. “He’s had as much tough luck in his life as anyone I’ve ever coached and I wanted to make sure he knew he was loved here in Findlay by everyone associated with our program.”

Once again it seemed that Smith would be on his own. The one friend he had had to rely on was taken away from him in a senseless act of violence by a shooter he hadn’t even known.

“I’ve become independent through it all,” said Smith. “My mom was my best friend before my brother and after her death he was the one that was there for me. To deal with it again was tougher but I used basketball to keep my head on straight.”

Smith had a break out year that winter. He started 19 games and led the team in blocks and assists. The sophomore also averaged seven points per game in his sophomore year.

“When Coach and the team came up to Toledo I was like ‘wow’,” added Smith. “I knew then that this was a family and that I had created a bond with them. I gained a lot of respect for them.”

Smith is currently in the midst of his junior year at the University of Findlay. His time is consumed mostly between work, school, and basketball, but he always knows that he can count on his basketball family to be there for him-keep his life normal.

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