HAGERSTOWN — One year ago, Tione Womack was lost.
Bad grades not only put him on the sidelines for the Hagerstown Community College basketball team, they put him in the bleachers.
Right then, something clicked. He spent the 2011-12 school year trying to get everything back. And on Thursday, Womack was found.
The HCC point guard will be at the University of Houston next fall after signing a letter of intent to play for the up-and-coming Cougars in an informal ceremony before friends, family and teammates in a classroom at HCC’s athletic complex.
“I’m just happy to have this blessing come my way,” said Womack, just after signing his name to the document and taking a second to drink in the experience. “Last year, to me, was a big block on what I wanted to accomplish. I had to further my education and get my goals.”
It was a long road back after becoming ineligible for the second half of the 2010-11 season. He was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch the Hawks win the Region XX title without him.
But the 6-foot-1 point guard from Randallstown High School came back with vengeance this season in a bigger, smarter way. He averaged 10 points and 7.6 assists a game while running HCC’s offense and leading it to the Maryland JuCo Conference regular-season title, the conference tournament title — where he was the MVP — and a second straight region title.
“The University of Houston is a big-time program,” HCC coach Barry Brown said. “They have a lot of pieces in place, but they needed a playmaker, someone to push the ball up the floor. They did their homework and came 1,400 miles to find him.
“They came here and found a good basketball player, but those are a dime a dozen. They found a nice young man who is a good leader.”
The new-and-improved Womack caught the attention of Houston, coached by James Dickey. He became the fifth member of the Cougars’ recruiting class, which will play one last season in Conference USA before joining the Big East in 2013.
“We are excited to have Tione join our program. He has been a proven winner everywhere he has competed, and we look forward to his leadership on our team,” Dickey said on Houston’s website. “Tione has a pass-first mentality that creates easy scoring opportunities for his teammates and is a quick, solid on-ball defender.”
For Womack, basketball was the easy part. The hard part was getting back to the point where he could play again.
“I have to thank everyone who was in my corner here at HCC,” Womack said. “All this wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t come here. It is more than basketball. You still have to focus on the books at the end of the day. When they told me I couldn’t play the rest of last season, it turned my life around.
“There are a lot of changes on the way now. I just have to pray and be strong. God will take me to the right path and lead me through.”