December 28, 1996 in Sports

Finding Strength From Within Ewu Players Struggle To Deal With Teammate’s Death

By The Spokesman-Review

Travis King, Kevin Lewis and several other members of the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team spent a somber, reflective evening at Lewis’ apartment Thursday, watching home videos of a fallen teammate.

They shared recollections, a few laughs and a lot of tears.

And they shared the grainy, but unforgettable, image of Rodrick “Hot Rod” McClure hamming it up for the video camera, grinning at them from the television screen and reminding them - even in death - that “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

“He was always telling us that,” King said of McClure, the Eagles’ junior point guard, who was killed in a two-car traffic accident early Thursday morning in his hometown of Las Vegas. “He said it on the videotape he (and Lewis) had made, too, and it kind of caught me and choked me up a little bit. “That’s one thing I’ve learned from him, because he was really strong.” Now it is Travis King’s turn to be strong.

As team captain, the senior shooting guard knows he needs to be there for his teammates - emotionally and physically - as they struggle to come to terms with McClure’s death and reconstruct a basketball season that suddenly seems insignificant.

King, who will probably be asked by coach Steve Aggers to step in and play McClure’s point guard position, is confident he can handle the physical part. He played the point as a junior before McClure took over after transferring this fall from Central Arizona College.

But he is not as sold on being able to deal with his emotional responsibilities.

“I’ve never had anybody close to me die, so I’m not very strong emotionally, as far as that part goes,” King admitted late Thursday after returning from the apartment Lewis and McClure had shared. “I didn’t really know how to react.”

King said he did what he could to help his teammates cope with their grief after word of McClure’s death filtered back to campus, where players were returning from a three-day Christmas break.

McClure and his stepfather, James Addison, were on their way to McCarron International Airport so McClure could catch an early morning flight back to Spokane when the accident occurred. Addison also died in the wreck.

“I felt I had to be strong for the team, because I’m the team captain,” said King, explaining the players met twice with coaches, counselors and school administrators late Thursday to sort out their feelings. “But it was really tough for me to see all the guys in a basketball atmosphere and not have Rod there.

“Everybody knew Rod really well and loved him. And I think, like me, most of the guys on the team have never had anybody close to them die. We all took it really hard and spent hours crying and trying to help out each other.”

King and the rest of the Eagles boarded a bus Friday for the drive to Seattle, where they will play the University of Washington in a non-conference game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion Sunday afternoon at 1. The game was originally scheduled for today, but UW officials agreed to postpone the tipoff 24 hours to give EWU players and coaches an extra day to deal with the shocking news about McClure. However, the team had to spend the night in Ellensburg because Snoqualmie Pass was closed.

King said he was looking forward to the bus ride and the opportunity to further discuss McClure’s death - and life - with his teammates.

“The crying stage, it’s not over for good,” King said, “but as far as the hours upon hours of crying, we can at least talk about it now without really breaking down.

“The bus ride and the fact we’ll all be so close with so much time to talk should help, because I still don’t know if it’s hit a lot of the guys yet or if they have accepted it.”

King said he had no idea how McClure’s death would effect the team’s performance against UW.

“We want to win, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one thing we can control, and that’s how hard we play,” he explained. “And that’s the thing I’m going to tell the guys before the game.

“It might be hard without him the first time out, but we can always play hard. That’s the one thing no one can take away from us. It might take a little bit for us to blend and mesh, but hopefully we can just go out there and play our hardest and see what happens.”

King admitted it will take a long time for him and his teammates to recover - on and off the court - from the loss of McClure.

“We’ll never forget him, but we have to get through it somehow,” he said. “It’s going to take longer for some than others, but it is not going to kill our team.

“It’ll just make us stronger.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

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