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College Basketball: Former Salisbury star Spears comes home

By Bret Strelow

Salisbury Post

The first taste of Tobacco Road basketball didn’t spoil freshman Shamari Spears’ appetite.

Spears, a former Salisbury High star, returned to his home state late last week and scored three points in Boston College’s 74-58 win at North Carolina State on Saturday.

The Eagles (10-4) didn’t fly back to Boston afterward because they face Wake Forest (9-5) tonight in Winston-Salem. The break gave BC three days to prepare for Wake and Spears just as much time to find the perfect plate of pork.

“I haven’t been in Salisbury in a while, so I’m definitely looking forward to going home and getting some good barbeque and some good Southern food,” Spears said after the N.C. State game. “College Bar-B-Que is my favorite place.”

Spears played two high school seasons for Salisbury and scored a county-record 55 points against East Davidson before heading to Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J.

He played at Blair for three seasons, then reunited with childhood friend Tyrese Rice at Boston College.

Spears scored a team-high 23 points against New Hampshire in his first collegiate game, and he has averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 14 contests.

“I always dreamed of playing in the ACC,” Spears said, “and I reached that dream.”

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Spears will suit up 40 miles from Salisbury tonight, but his path to the ACC included an important detour through the Northeast. Head coach Joe Mantegna welcomed the talented forward to Blair in 2003 and oversaw a dramatic transformation.

Former Richmond coach Dick Tarrant had recommended Blair in conversations with Kevin Eastman, a former UNC Wilmington coach who played for the Spiders. Current South Rowan assistant Bryan Withers played for Eastman in Wilmington more than a decade ago, and Withers was a Salisbury assistant during Spears’ sophomore season with the Hornets.

“He learned, even in practice, if he didn’t bring it, he wasn’t going to be successful,” Mantegna said. “It’s very easy to talk about doing your best. But when not doing your best leads to failure, it’s a lot easier to motivate.”

Spears dedicated more time to becoming a better player and student. He eliminated soft drinks from his diet and added more muscle to his 6-foot-6 frame.

As for his maturation?

“As much as any human being could in three years,” Mantegna said with a laugh.

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A program with notable alums such as Luol Deng (Duke) and Charlie Villanueva (Connecticut) had another top prospect.

Rice, who played alongside Spears as Junior Hornets at Halls Gym, was a Boston College freshman last season. His presence impacted Spears’ decision.

“He definitely made my transition from high school to BC a lot smoother,” Spears said. “We’re like brothers — I’ve known him since I was a little baby.”

Rice, the starting point guard, has evolved without the services of one familiar face.

Craig Smith (6-7, 250 pounds) excelled as an undersized power forward and departed after the 2005-06 season. Spears, who is one inch shorter and five pounds lighter, has provided the Eagles with another low-post threat.

Boston College competed without suspended starters Sean Williams and Akida McLain in its opener. Spears went 8-for-10 from the field and 7-for-11 from the line in a starting role.

McLain sat out BC’s first nine games and has missed the last four with an ankle injury. John Oates has started in McLain’s place, but Spears plays nearly 23 minutes a game.

“Playing tough, that’s just in his personality,” senior guard Sean Marshall said. “He’s probably one of the strongest players besides Craig that I’ve ever seen play basketball at that height.”

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Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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