CORVALLIS, Ore. — The tears once shed here for Earnest Killum have since dried. The healing has begun for those at Oregon State who were touched by the death of a basketball player from Lynwood High who never really got to play. Healing is what they speak of now. Life goes on, they say.
Earnest Killum Sr. arrived here Friday night from his home in Atlanta to be a part of "Dad's Weekend," during which students show their fathers around for a couple of days. His son's spirit lives on at the court in Gill Coliseum, in the hallways leading to the locker room, in the hearts of the players and coaches who cared so much for him. They wear his initials on their uniforms on a patch sewn over their hearts: "E.K."
Earnest Killum Sr. wanted to see it all for himself. He had planned to be here anyway with his son, whom he last saw Dec. 7, when Oregon State played at Ohio State.
The last game Killum played was a month ago against USC at the Sports Arena, and he was to get his first start against UCLA two days later. But the day after the game against the Trojans, he suffered a stroke while soaking his legs in a hot tub at the team's hotel in Los Angeles.
When he didn't make it to the bus for a noon workout at UCLA, the team trainer searched for him and found him semiconscious, with one leg still in the tub. Four days later, Killum died at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, miles from where he grew up in Lynwood. He was 20.
Doctors say they might never know whether Killum's playing basketball had anything to do with his death. Autopsy results have not been released.
Saturday afternoon, Earnest Killum Sr. paused in the hallway outside the Oregon State locker room and spoke of his son's death. It was minutes before the Beavers' game against USC was to start.
"I've been fine the whole time," he said of the period since his son died. "I'm not trying to boast or anything, but I didn't shed a tear. My son is not suffering. You're never happy with the end result, but more than anything I wouldn't want him to suffer."
It was Killum's second stroke. His first, suffered in July, had kept him out of play for nearly the first two months of this season. Killum underwent surgery to remove a blood clot, but doctors never determined what caused the clots--a situation that frustrated Killum, who said his love of basketball was second only to his love of God.
"When I saw him in Ohio, we talked about everything," his father said. "I told him that his playing could be a matter of life and death, but he said he still wanted to play. He told me that the test results didn't find anything wrong, and I told him that if he was well, he would be playing.
"But he was a 20-year-old whose desire was to play. I tried to counsel him on the right
track. I was a little leery, sure. I don't always agree, but once the decision was made, I supported him."
And then Earnest Killum Sr., dressed handsomely in a charcoal pin-striped suit, joined his son's teammates as they ran through the hallways and scurried up the steps into the coliseum. Later, during a timeout, a "special dad" was announced to the crowd. Earnest Killum Sr. stood, as did the crowd of more than 10,000.
Killum's death stunned Corvallis, a small college town about 90 miles south of Portland. "It was front page news in every paper in the area, including Portland," said longtime Oregon State sports information director Hal Cowan.
Said team captain Scott Haskin: "You seldom hear of a young person dying of a stroke, usually that only happens when you are older. It makes you face reality and slaps you in the face with a question of life or death."
In the months after his first stroke, Killum was often asked if basketball was worth dying for. He always seemed to answer the same way. Hours before his second stroke, he told Chris Baker of The Times: "It's just my faith that is keeping me going. I'm not worried about nothing happening to me at all."
Since Killum's death, his faith has caused others to deepen theirs.
"I have dealt with some other athletes since his death who have given their life to Jesus Christ because of him, because they were able to see him live out what he talked," said Earl Hinkle, Oregon State's chaplain.
"A lot of us have wondered why, and we don't have any answers to that. But I have not had anyone question whether they should have faith or not."
For Oregon State Coach Jim Anderson, this was the second time one of his players has died. In 1971, when Anderson was an assistant coach under Ralph Miller, sophomore guard Mike Keck was killed in an automobile accident.
"It hasn't been that long since Earnest passed away, and it lingers in the air," Anderson said. "I can't help but think about Earnest. He was such a special talent, but more so, a very special personality. He was a blue-chip, high-profile athlete, but he didn't have the ego. There was a friendship, and openness, about Earnest."