Today was supposed to be the happy day. Maui sunshine. Surf and sand. All the glorious advantages of island life in Hawaii and basketball at the Lahaina Civic Center.
UConn plays Oklahoma State Monday night in the first round of the 2016 event. UConn’s Rodney Purvis and Oklahoma State’s Tyrek Coger couldn’t wait. Just imagine the two warming up before the game (9 p.m., ESPNU), seeing each other, shaking hands, sharing a hug and big smiles for everyone.
It won’t happen. These two men, who grew up together in Raleigh, N.C., were actually Godbrothers but considered each other brothers, Coger actually lived in the Purvis house for a while. Rodney’s mother, Shanda McNair, was Tyrek’s godmother.
Purvis will play with a heavy heart tonight. Coger tragically passed away on July 21 after a team workout at Oklahoma State. Just weeks after that, UConn announced that Purvis would wear No 15 this season to honor his brother. That was Coger’s number. If you watch the game tonight, just look at Purvis in that No. 15 and try to imagine what he is going through.
Purvis spoke to reporters in Maui over the weekend. I’m not in Maui with the Huskies. But if you haven’t read Dom Amore’s story in The Hartford Courant, please take a look. Purvis is one of the happiest players I’ve ever covered in basketball. His smile is his trademark.
It truly pains me to think what he is running through his mind.
From Amore’s story:
“Having this opportunity to play against each other, we had been on teams together for so long, it kind of would’ve been strange seeing him in a different uniform from myself.”
Purvis transferred to UConn from North Carolina State. Coger had a more difficult path before finally landing at Oklahoma State after trying to play at Mississippi State.
Again, from Dom’s story:
“That’s the only time I’d ever seen him cry,” Purvis said. “He called me up on facetime and he was broken up. I told him to just stay with it, then he got the opportunity to visit Oklahoma State and he fell in love with it. He found a home. Then he never got the chance to put on a jersey and play in a game. Some things you can’t control.”
Coger had made it to Stillwater, Okla., and was there only 17 days when it was learned UConn and Oklahoma State would be playing. Then on the evening of July 21, Purvis was driving back to his apartment in Storrs when his mother called from Raleigh, very emotional, saying something about Tyrek going to the emergency room.
“I was always the one who was calm,” Purvis said. “It didn’t hit me, how serious the situation was.”
Purvis got another call from his mother, then another from a friend. It became apparent that Tyrek didn’t just pass out in the sun at Oklahoma State, where he was running up the bleachers at the football stadium on a hot day. By the time Purvis got to his dorm, he sensed that something was terribly wrong. He called home one more time and learned that his god-brother had died from what was later learned was a left ventricular hypertrophy, or enlarged heart.
“And I just lost it,” Purvis said.
Read the entire story here.
Purvis has been in an offensive slump through the first three games. UConn needs him to get going. Playing in grief tonight, remember that.
And remember, life is bigger than the game.