Thursday, July 26, started out as just another day for seven returning members of the Indian Hills basketball team.
Another day to prepare for the upcoming season. Another day to build off the success of last year’s run to the national tournament.
“We were just here in the summer grinding it out when we got the news,” Frank Williams said. “It’s been really tough for us, especially when we got that news.”
That news on that day was equally shocking and tragic. Michael Haynes, a sophomore teammate of those seven returning players and one of the players brought to IHCC by first-year head coach Barret Peery, had been shot and killed in his hometown of Chicago in a senseless act of violence.
Suddenly, what had been just a simple offseason of preparation wasn’t so simple anymore. Bouncing back from a simple loss on the hardwood was nothing compared to bouncing back from this loss for a group of Warriors that had grown close over the past year.
“It was hard at first to hear about that. For Coach Peery and the rest of the returning players, it kind of broke us down a little bit,” Trinson White said. “We had so much love for Mike. We all expected great things for him in the future.
“It hurts still, but we’re dedicating this season to him. He’s watching us from above and this is what he would have wanted us to do, so we have to take care of business for him.”
White, Williams, Jameel McKay, Dustin Hogue, Ronnie Stevens, Gary Ross and Rawane Ndiaye now share a very unique bond that goes beyond just being the seven players that are wearing Indian Hills maroon and gold for a second straight year. All seven spent last year, as freshmen, as a teammate of Haynes.
All seven got to experience the leadership of the sophomore transfer from UTEP, who started out as the leading scorer for the Warriors in their first two games and ended his playing career as a key bench contributor for a national tournament qualifier. More importantly, Haynes was right at the heart of bringing the Warriors together as a team with his leadership on and off the court.
“Mike was close to all of us,” Jameel McKay, last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, said. “He played my position, so I know exactly what he brought to the court. On and off the court, he was always a friend and a brother to us.”
It’s that same type of leadership that those returning Warriors hope to use as an example this year as they take over the roles of team leaders this season. Using the memory of Haynes will certainly help in leading the way this season.
“It’s more like a brotherhood this year,” Williams said. “With Mike being gone, it gives us a little bit more of a push. Whether in the classroom or even during games, we always need to be doing this for Mike.”
Williams took that thought to heart and found a unique way to put those words into action on the first kickoff night to the upcoming season for the Indian Hills basketball team. On ‘Meet the Warriors’ night, Williams won the team’s slam-dunk competition by taking off his jersey on his first dunk to display a shirt that had Haynes’ last name and number on the back.
The result was a display of just how unified the memory of Haynes has made Indian Hills this season as the entire team joined Williams in taking a trip up and down the Hellyer Student Life Center displaying the shirt for several exuberant Warrior fans to enjoy as well.
“I love Mike with all my heart. I had to do something to pay tribute to him,” Williams said. “A big part of this season is really for Mike. I really felt like that was something I had to do. It was a good thing.”
“I didn’t know what to do, but I was smiling like a kid in a candy store,” White added. “It kind of surprised me. I didn’t know Frank was going to do that. It was a nice thing to do.”
It was a fitting conclusion to the Warriors’ first night on the floor as a team. ‘Meet the Warriors’ started with Peery unveiling a poster of Haynes in action last year for Indian Hills slamming a ball through the hoop at the Hellyer Center.
The picture, which will hang in the Hellyer Center throughout this season, will serve as another great tribute to the memory of Haynes and a consistent source of motivation for the Warriors throughout this season.
“Mike was real special to us and real close to his teammates,” Peery said. “There’s a big part of those guys that want to play for Mike. They want to take it a step further and make this a special year.”
“I plan to win a national championship for him,” McKay added. “That’s what he would have wanted us to do.”
According to Williams, the picture is a perfect answer to anyone who would ever wonder what kind of a player and person Haynes was.
“He looks so passionate in his dunk. You can see in his eyes that he was always a competitor,” Williams said. “It’s easy to look at that picture and remember what you’re playing for.
“He’s gone, but we can’t keep crying about it. All we can do is go out there and work hard.”