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November 12, 2021

Ron "Itchy" Smith, legendary Camden High basketball player, dies shortly after having number retired

The six-foot-one guard, a member of the class of 1960, was the first player in the school's history to score more than one thousand points

Basketball Death
11 12 2021 Itchy Smith.jpg Noah Zucker/for PhillyVoice

Ron "Itchy" Smith with his son Andre Smith.

One of South Jersey's best basketball players of all time, a graduate of the prestigious Camden High School program, died this week.

Luckily, Ron "Itchy" Smith got to see his number retired and a street in front of the school named in his honor in the final weeks of his life. At the same event, the Sixers signed him to an honorary one-day contract since he never got to play in the NBA.

The six-foot-one guard, a member of the class of 1960, died on Wednesday night at 80 years old, six decades after he led Camden High to two consecutive state championships.

Smith was the first Camden High player to score more than one thousand points, something he accomplished before three-pointers were an entrenched part of the game and over the course of just three years, since high school in Camden started in tenth grade at the time.

Across New Jersey, coaches, players and fans remember Smith for his humility and unparalleled skills and style.

Many in the Camden community also see Smith as a starting point for Camden High's stellar basketball pedigree.

Today, the struggling high school which just moved into a brand-new building, still has the fourth best basketball team in the entire nation. The squad is currently led by junior DJ Wagner, who is widely regarded as one of the top recruits from the class of 2023.

He's the son of Dajuan Wagner and the grandson of Milt Wagner, both Camden High grads and just two of the school's many alumni who went on to play in the NCAA and NBA.

Although Smith went on to play college ball at Tennessee State University, he never had a stint in the NBA. Instead, he returned to Camden where he opened a candy store in the Centerville neighborhood.

The legend's son Andre Smith said his father returned because he couldn't bear leaving his beloved hometown. Smith ran the store until he retired in the nineties.

Although Smith's dominance on the court in his youth was remembered well by those who witnessed it, his contributions to basketball in Camden and New Jersey as a whole went largely unrecognized until the last few years.

In 2016, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association inducted Smith into their high school basketball hall of fame.

Over the summer, as the community was celebrating the new Camden High building, several alumni began discussing the need to recognize Smith's contributions to basketball in Camden before he died.

In his advanced age, Smith was at a point where it was hard for him to stand and he had trouble communicating.

“(We) want to give him his flowers while he’s here," Denny Brown, a Camden High basketball alum from the eighties who helped make last month's recognition a reality, told TAPinto Camden at the ceremony.

This was the first time in Camden High's history that a player's number was retired.