February 28, 2009

Thinking of De'Andre

Before each home game this season Winthrop assistant coach Paul Molinari has taken the same walk.

Before each home game this season Winthrop assistant coach Paul Molinari has taken the same walk.

Usually dressed in suit pants, dress shoes and a T-shirt, he climbs the steps behind the basket in the Winthrop Coliseum.

He walks onto the concourse and spends a little time looking at the photo of De'Andre Adams that hangs on the wall just across from the doors leading to Sections 115-116. De'Andre, frozen forever in the joy of the moment, is leaping into the air in front of the Winthrop bench as the final seconds tick away in the Eagles' 74-64 win over Notre Dame in the 2007 NCAA tournament.

In De'Andre's wide-eyed grinning face is etched what it means to be a college athlete, what it means to love a game, what it means to win.

It's a face Molinari -- and all of us -- saw during the two years De'Andre had with the program before his death in May 2007 from injuries in an auto accident.

"I go up there just to remember the good things," Molinari said as he sat in the coliseum the other day. "And I go just to pay tribute to De'Andre, because this would have been his senior year. I wear my De'Andre T-shirt on game days and I still wear the bracelet (with De'Andre's name and number). I think about De'Andre every day."

He'll make the walk again today, when Winthrop plays what will likely be its final home game of the season against Coastal Carolina.

Because it's the last home game, Winthrop will honor its seniors -- popular walk-on Johnny Rice and Cameron Stanley, the transfer from Wake Forest who will be winding up his one and only year with the Eagles.

And De'Andre, as is fitting for a player who is still very much at part of the Winthrop basketball family.

This would have been De'Andre's team. He would have been the senior leader, the point guard, the face and -- more importantly -- the smile of the team. He would have yanked jerseys in practice, demanded guys make the necessary effort. He would have played hard and demanded as much of himself as his teammates.

"He would have brought emotion and enthusiasm," Molinari said. "He would have told the young players what this place is all about.

"He would have," Molinari said, pointing to the championships recorded in the rafters, "told them what those banners are about."

De'Andre may not have made one single difference in the Eagles' record this season. Then again, maybe he would, because few players in the history of the program have been more competitive. He hated losing almost as bad as music you couldn't dance to.

We'll never know his on-the-court impact, but we do know what we've missed and what should be remembered today.

"When he played," coach Randy Peele said, "he brought a reality check to all of us. He let us know that it's just a game, just a game. He played it because it was fun.

"I'm an old-school guy. I was gym rat. When you're like that, you look for kids who love the game as much as you do. That kid loved it.

"Sometimes we lose sight of that."

Last season, the Eagles used De'Andre's memory as a rallying point to win their fourth straight Big South title. When they beat UNC Asheville in the tournament finals the "De-Andre! De-Andre!" cheers rattled the Justice Center.

The "This is for #24" sign said it all.

"He was a big factor last year," his roommate and best friend, Mantoris Robinson, said. "We wanted to get it for him."

Robinson, who is quiet and reserved most of the time, smiled when asked how he and De'Andre, a kid who never met a stranger, hit it off so well.

"He embraced me," Robinson said, as he lay on a table in the training room getting treatment for his sore back. "But he loved basketball like I love it and that's what brought us together. I played hard. He played hard. We did it together."

Robinson hasn't made the walk to the concourse, but he keeps a photo of De'Andre in his room.

"Think about him every day," Robinson said.

He really hadn't thought about the fact today would have been the last home game for De'Andre.

"But when the day comes, it will hit my mind," he said.

Senior Day, Molinari said, "doesn't put closure on things."

"Senior Day is never about that," he said. "Just because they play their last game doesn't mean they leave and are forgotten. They're always part of the family."

Including De'Andre.

Molinari is very close to John Adams, De'Andre's father, and the rest of the family. So is everyone associated with the program.

"But it's not because De'Andre died," Molinari said. "We would have been close anyway. (Senior Day) won't be a sad day because we believe playing basketball here is a commitment for life."

An hour or so before tipoff of Tuesday night's Winthrop-Charleston Southern game, I walked up through the stands to the concourse.

The crowd, which would number just over 2,000, had barely started to trickle in. Outside the closed doors leading to sections 115-116, there wasn't a soul.

Through the doors came the sound of squeaking sneakers and the voice of Winthrop assistant coach Marty McGillan yelling "Go! Go!" as he ran redshirt freshman Gideon Gamble and transfer Matt Morgan through the individual workouts that have become ritual before each home game.

I stopped in front of the photo -- De'Andre, eyes wide and grinning from ear to ear, leaping.

De'Andre was a point guard, an assist man, and he's still dishing, will be as long as that photo hangs on that wall.

One smile at a time.

Go see for yourself.

Related content