SAIT basketball player killed after stopping harassment described as selfless, charismatic

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The friend of a man who was shot dead in Calgary over the weekend — after intervening in unwanted physical touching toward a woman — says he was the type of guy who was always there to help.

Calgary’s basketball community is still reeling from the loss of John Smith Jr., said one friend and fellow player. (Azin Ghaffari/SAIT Trojans)

The friend of a man who was shot dead outside a Calgary nightclub over the weekend after defending a woman says he was the type of guy who was always there to help.

Friends and former teammates of John Smith Jr. remember him as a passionate basketball player and mentor.

Smith, 31, was a victim of what Calgary police have called a “random crime” on Sunday. Smith was shot after intervening on behalf of a female friend, who faced unwanted sexual advances and physical contact. 

Nikola Ivanovic met Smith in 2016, while the two were playing basketball for the Trojans at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Smith was his first friend in Canada, he said.

Smith’s family said he was also completing a diploma in business administration at the Calgary college. 

Ivanovic said news that Smith had been shot and killed was “unbelievable.”

Smith, pictured here with his mother, Cylon Bates, played on the SAIT Trojans and was also completing a diploma in business administration at the Calgary college. (Calgary Police Service)

“I was heartbroken, mad, sad — everything, everything at the same time,” he said. “He was never a guy who would get into trouble or anything like that. He was always a type of guy who was there to help us.” 

Police say around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Smith left the Junction Underground nightclub in downtown Calgary with a female friend, when two men who were loitering outside started harassing the woman. 

Smith intervened and was shot outside the bar. Police transported Smith to hospital, where he later died.

Ivanovic said the woman was Smith’s girlfriend, and he was at the club with two other friends.  

Calgary’s basketball community is still reeling from the loss, he said.  

Police have said the 31-year-old was a victim of a ‘random crime.’ (Calgary Police Service)

“He would always put other people in front of him,” said Ivanovic. “I never met a person like John, with so much intensity, originality. He wasn’t selfish. He was just overall a one-in-a-million type of guy.” 

Smith made Calgary home after he moved from Washington to play college basketball. He also volunteered and coached at basketball camps for kids, Ivanovic said.

“On the court? He was a beast. John had the drive of a winner and a champion.” 

Trojans coach, Marty Birky, said Smith was bold, charismatic and always pushing himself to be better. 

“From what he was wearing, to what he would say … he expected to win in every game he played, expected to make every shot he shot,” Birky said.

Smith is shown pictured with his sisters, Sade and Krystal. (Calgary Police Service)

Assistant coach Pat Boulin recalled Smith as having “American swagger.” 

Boulin said his favourite memory of Smith came during a game against Red Deer Polytechnic; the team was down by two points and had 12 seconds left in the game — and the Trojans had just called a timeout.  

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Don’t worry, Pat, I got this.’ And I kind of rolled my eyes,” Boulin said.  “He hit a deep three just with three seconds left … he just gave me a little wink. That’s by far my favourite memory of John.” 

SAIT is providing the college community with resources and grief counselors, Birky said.

Family says they’re ‘forever broken’ 

On Wednesday, Calgary police shared a statement on behalf of Smith’s family — his mother, Cylon Bates, and his two sisters, Sade and Krystal Smith. 

“John was not only a brother and son, but our best friend. He had a heart of gold, was brilliant, funny, talented, driven and authentically himself. He was truly a revolutionary embodiment of Black joy. He made everyone around him feel seen, heard and empowered to self-love. He was a protector,” said the family statement. 

“We are devastated by his passing. A huge piece of us is gone. Our family is forever broken. He is left behind by his family and girlfriend, whom he truly loved.”

Police ask for help finding suspect

Police have released photos of a man they say is a suspect in the weekend shooting in downtown Calgary. (Calgary Police Service)

A second man, who was the acquaintance of the suspect, was also shot, police said. That man fled the scene in a black Mercedes sedan with B.C. licence plates and drove himself to Foothills Medical Centre. Police said he’s not currently co-operating with the investigation.

The shooter fled the scene on foot, heading east along Eighth Avenue S.W., police said. 

Police have released photos of the suspect, along with a description. They say he is shorter than six feet tall, with a visible tattoo on his neck, and dark, wavy hair. He was wearing a white Nike tracksuit top, blue jeans and white runners. 

Anyone with information on the homicide, or the suspect’s identity, can call the non-emergency police line at 403-266-1234. Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers.

Investigators also want to hear from anyone with dashcam, cellphone or CCTV photos or video from the area that night, especially if it seems to capture the suspect or the black Mercedes.

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