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24 in her heart now on her jersey, too

Winthrop's Franchesca Davenport wears No. 24 in honor of her late boyfriend, De'Andre Adams, a former Winthrop basketball player who died after a car wreck in May.
Winthrop's Franchesca Davenport wears No. 24 in honor of her late boyfriend, De'Andre Adams, a former Winthrop basketball player who died after a car wreck in May.

She looks like Beyonce, from her dazzling smile down the 5 foot, 10 inch frame to pink fingernail polish. And Franchesca Davenport at 20 years old plays basketball for Winthrop University, somehow still shooting jumpshots and hustling and taking final exams, as she tries to mend a broken heart underneath the No. 24 jersey.

The No. is 24 now, after having No. 34 her whole life. Because the guy who asked her to marry him played basketball for Winthrop on the men's team, and he was No. 24. The guy Winthrop radio announcing gem Dave Friedman would shout out to the world over the airwaves, "De'Andre Adams!"

The same De'Andre Adams who died a few days after a car wreck in May. The crash was in Atlanta, where Davenport and Adams were from. Where this love story began, and ended.

They grew up 15 minutes away from each other. At an all-star tournament in Georgia in 2005, Davenport played in the girls' game. Adams played in the boys' game.

"We talked a little, like players do at any tournament," Davenport recalled.

'What are you doing here?'

That summer, Adams started school in Rock Hill at Winthrop and up walked Davenport.

"He asked, 'What are you doing here?' I told him I was going here, too," she said.

She lived in one dorm, Adams in another. Both were busy juggling basketball and studies and being 18 years old. They were friends. They would hang out some with others. When she would drive home, he would catch a ride to see his family.

Finally, after months of friendship, Davenport got a text message on her cell phone. Adams.

"Do you want go with me?" the message asked.

At first she said no. He kept asking.

"I finally said 'Yeah,'" she said.

By the second semester, the two were well known as a couple who were more than friends. He made headlines on the court in limited playing time, creating a following as a dazzling, mercurial, smiler. Nicknamed "Spectacula," Adams was 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

Maybe.

She already was a starter, dubbed "Franchize." Noticeably taller.

The only time height was an issue was when they would sneak onto the Winthrop Coliseum playing floor, late at night, to play basketball.

"I was taller so I would try and block his shots," she said.

Did everything together

He would encourage her about school and basketball. She would do the same as he vied for more playing time.

"We were best friends, too," Davenport said. "We did everything together."

Bud Childers, women's coach at Winthrop and one of those people in life you root for because he is a good guy who cares about players besides knowing basketball, noticed the couple like everybody else did. Childers recalled how Davenport would cheer wildly at men's games. Adams would be more reserved cheering for his girlfriend at women's games.

"I knew they leaned on each other for support, too," Childers said.

Unlike nonathletes, basketball players are around during the holidays. Around Christmas last year, Davenport found an engagement ring on her desk.

"'Dre, what is this?" she asked.

He asked, "You are going to be with me forever, right?" she remembered.

Davenport said she would.

She said both knew they had college to finish before worrying about a wedding date. She always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.

After school ended in May, both went home to families in Atlanta. The night of the crash, he had been at her house. He left to go home, she said.

He never made it.

She found out by a phone call a couple of hours later.

Davenport was devastated and stayed as long as she could at the hospital. Adams fought for his life for a few days, but Davenport had to come back to Rock Hill for summer classes.

On May 16, Davenport was driving on Dave Lyle Boulevard, heading for Atlanta to see Adams, when her phone rang. She was told Adams was dead.

She rushed back to campus, her friends tried to console the inconsolable girl, and two teammates drove her to Atlanta.

Davenport literally had to be carried into the funeral days later. She has never been to the grave where he was buried that day.

"Too hard," she said.

Davenport recently had a tattoo, "Spectacula," placed on her hip.

"He was going to get my nickname, too," she said.

One of the bracelets that Winthrop sold to raise $25,000 for an Adams endowed scholarship is always on her wrist. Except in games. Then she wears it around her ankle.

Sharing No. 24

Before the season started, Winthrop announced it would retire the No. 24 from the men's program forever. Childers asked Davenport if she wanted to wear No. 24.

"A tribute that everyone would recognize," Childers said.

Davenport agreed.

In the magazine for the women's team, Davenport wrote a couple of paragraphs about why she changed numbers. It is beautiful. One sentence stands out. Franchesca Davenport wrote she doesn't just wear the number, she shares it. Adams was a sharer. Enough joy for everybody.

"Wearing this number just makes me feel as if he is still here at Winthrop with us, making everybody laugh and smile," she wrote.

Davenport can't make the guy she expected to marry come back. Nobody can.

I watched Childers drill Davenport and her team at practice Thursday, preparing for Monday's home game. Davenport wore No. 24 and she hustled and she played hard. She smiled a few times.

There is no doubt Franchesca Davenport will make sure, with No. 24 on her back and chest, nobody ever forgets how the other No. 24 played, and lived.

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