By David Driver - Laurel Leader
College Park, Md. - The first time that Laurel resident Alie Kondeh stepped inside of what was then the Xfinity Center on the campus of the University of Maryland was in 2008 to watch the Laurel High boys basketball team lose in the state Class 4A semifinals against Springbrook of Montgomery County.
Kondeh, a Laurel High freshman at the time, didn't play basketball during his two years at the school, due in part to personal family matters.
"There were a lot of things going on in my life at the time. I just focused on my grades," said Kondeh, who also attended Oaklands Elementary and Eisenhower Middle School.
Kondeh returned to the Xfinity Center Nov. 17 and this time he was part of the action instead of watching from the stands.
He is now in his first academic year at St. Mary's College of Maryland, a Division III athletic program. Kondeh came off the bench and played 15 minutes with four points, two rebounds and one assist in a 93-45 loss to Division I Maryland, which began the season as the No. 25 ranked team in the country.
Kondeh, getting his shot at playing on a Division I floor, made a nice move to the basket in the first half after he grabbed a rebound.
"That's a pretty play," exclaimed Chris Knoche, a radio broadcaster on the Maryland network.
But the modest numbers posted by the 6-foot-4 Kondeh hardly tell his full story of enrolling at a four-year school or making it to the big time and play a D1 team at College Park.
Chris Harney, in his 12th year as the St. Mary's head coach, said that Kondeh in the past helped care for his ailing mother. Among the places he said Kondeh worked is the Wendy's on Route 1 near the player's home in South Laurel.
"He is more than just a player — he is really a special person," said Harney, a 1997 graduate of St. Mary's. "I am really proud to be his coach. He took a whole year off to help his mother. He has had to grow up; he has probably seen more in 20 some years than many people see in a lifetime. But it has shaped his character."
After two years at Laurel High, Kondeh enrolled at the Ideal Academy Charter School in northwest Washington, which closed soon after he graduated. He lived during the week with his uncle, who had gained custody of him, then spent some weekends at home in Laurel with his mother.
His father has passed away while his mother, Amy, is now a chef.
After high school, Kondeh played basketball for Howard Community College in Columbia as a freshman. When his coach there, Mike Smelkinson, got the head job at Harford Community College, Kondeh followed him.
He spent his sophomore year at Harford Community College in 2014-15 and averaged eight points and 20 minutes per contest, while playing in 25 of 31 games, with two starts.
After not playing during the 2015-16 season, Kondeh enrolled at St. Mary's this semester.
Smelkinson, also a St. Mary's graduate who played for Harney, had good things to say about Kondeh.
"He had to go back and take some more classes," Harney said. "I kept in touch with him and encouraged him to do well and stay with college. The summer of this year Alie was working full time and going to school part time … and taking care of his mother."
Kondeh told Harney he felt he could make the move to a four-year school.
"It is a big deal. Honestly, it is a big deal. To play at this college level is a great feeling. It lit me on fire," Kondeh.
Harney was with Kondeh when he met with St. Mary's staff, and said the admissions director said, "Wow, this is isn't your typical essay."
Kondeh is studying sociology and would like to be a social worker, and work with youth. Recently he spent about three hours with his coach preparing for an exam.
"I couldn't be happier for Alie," Harney said. "Basketball aside, I am so happy to see him at a four-year school. He is a high character, always-smiling kid. I am really going to really enjoy it when I see him receive his degree."