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SDSU guard Michael Orris inspired to play for his late brother against Gonzaga

UPDATED: Wed., March 15, 2017, 5:16 p.m.

South Dakota State's Michael Orris, right, dribbles past and Omaha defender during the Summit League NCAA college basketball championship game, Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (Joe Ahlquist / Associated Press)
South Dakota State's Michael Orris, right, dribbles past and Omaha defender during the Summit League NCAA college basketball championship game, Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (Joe Ahlquist / Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY – One Jackrabbit will have a little extra motivation to beat the Zags on Thursday.

South Dakota State’s Michael Orris said he’ll be playing his best to upset top-seeded Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. But he’ll also be playing for another reason – his brother.

Orris’ older brother, Billy, died in a motorcycle accident in August 2015 after crashing into a car in northern Illinois. Since Billy’s death, playing on the court has been an ongoing battle for Orris, who is used to seeing his brother cheering him on from the stands.

“When something like that happens in life, you know, everything else becomes less important,” the senior guard said on Wednesday. “It’s dramatically changed my world.”

Orris said basketball became a constant between him and his brother. Orris could always count on Billy showing up and rooting for him during his games at Kansas State and Northern Illinois before playing for the Jackrabbits.

“Michael and his brother, you know, they were best friends,” SDSU head coach T.J. Otzelberger. During Orris’ first two years on the college court, one at Kansas State and another at Northern Illinois, “his brother was right there by his side,” Otzelberger said.

This year is Orris’ first, and last, year with the Jackrabbits after transferring from Northern Illinois last year. It’s also his second season playing since his brother died.

This season at SDSU, Orris is averaging 8.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in 23 games for the Jackrabbits. But his contributions on the stat sheet are minimal compared to the strength and inspiration he has brought to his teammates throughout the year.

“He’s an amazing dude. He’s been through a lot in his life,” said SDSU’s A.J. Hess, Orris’ roommate. “I was like, ‘Wow, really incredible story,’ especially for a guy not lauded as a shooter. It was incredible.”

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