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Former Camden basketball star Wayne ‘Cat’ Smalls dies

The 1973 graduate was a High School All-American who helped usher in an era of national prominence for the Panthers. He also scored 1,000 points in a four-year career at Florida State.

Wayne "Cat" Smalls was a star basketball player at Camden High School.
Wayne "Cat" Smalls was a star basketball player at Camden High School.Read moreProvided

Lee Smalls remembers the night his famous brother scored 25 points in a basketball game for Camden High.

No big deal, right?

Except that Wayne Smalls scored all 25 with his left hand.

"He had sprained his right hand on a dunk,” Lee Smalls said. “They wrapped him up and he went out and played the whole game with just his left hand.”

Wayne Smalls, whose spectacular play in the early 1970s set the stage for Camden High’s rise to national prominence, died of cancer Wednesday night in Miami. He was 65.

Mr. Smalls scored 1,387 points in his career at Camden, graduating in 1973. He was the first High School All-American to play for the Panthers under coach Clarence Turner.

“He was the one who got the ball rolling,” former Camden star Greg Barr said in a Facebook post.

Minister Wasim Muhammad, who was known as Donnie Walker in his playing days at Camden, said Mr. Smalls sometimes was overlooked in the roll call of Camden stars.

Mr. Smalls wasn’t able to compete for a state title in his senior season at Camden because the Panthers were on probation and ineligible to compete in the tournament, Muhammad said.

“He felt like maybe his story got a little lost,” Muhammad said. “He was an amazing player.”

Mr. Smalls played four seasons at Florida State, scoring 1,016 career points. He was a director of parks and recreation programs in Miami, specializing in running basketball camps and clinics for youngsters.

“He loved to work with kids,” Lee Smalls said of his brother.

Lee Smalls, who graduated from Camden in 1979, said his older brother was a natural athlete who excelled at every sport.

“Everybody tells me he was even better at baseball than at basketball,” Lee Smalls said. “He was a great golfer, even in high school.”

Lee Smalls shared a video on Facebook that showed his brother at an outdoor clinic, making a trick shot by bouncing the ball through the hoop from near halfcourt.

“My brother could do anything when he came to sports,” Lee Smalls said.

Although he lived most of the last years of his life in Miami, Mr. Smalls was famous for representing his hometown. He would join gatherings in Florida with the announcement, “Camden in the house.”

Later in life, Mr. Smalls’ nickname was “Boss.” But during his playing days at Camden, he was known as Wayne “Cat” Smalls.

“They called him that because he was so quick,” Lee Smalls said. “He would leave people falling down, and he would be looking back on his way to the basket. Every game I ever saw him play, he put on a show.”

The year after Mr. Smalls graduated, Camden won its first state title under Turner as the 1974 team -- which featured future NFL players Art Still and Derrick Ramsey as well as the late, great Darryl ‘Doc’ Lee -- went 28-1 and won the Group 3 crown.

That started a run that included seven state titles in 14 years and featured legendary players such as Billy Culbertson, Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson, Kevin Walls, Louis Banks, Vic Carstarphen, and Denny Brown, among many others.

But longtime Camden basketball observers note that the Panthers’ remarkable run under Turner first took flight with a 6-foot-2 guard who could score with either hand.

“He brought in the era,” Muhammad said.

Mr. Smalls is survived by his wife, Wanda, as well as three children. Funeral services are to be held in Miami, Lee Smalls said.