by Julia Cardi
Tiffany Rice cherishes the smallest details about her son, Dajae Coleman. She remembers how his impressions of Stewie Griffin from “Family Guy” would bring her to laughter no matter her mood.
“That’s what made him Dae,” said Rice, laughing again at the memory. “He had this good sense of humor that he wore outwardly.”
The Evanston Wildkits celebrated those memories on Friday night in a ceremony honoring the team’s seniors before the final home game of the season, played against the Glenbrook South Titans. The Wildkits’ 73-38 win made Trevon Marshall, who is Coleman’s cousin, Dylan Mulvihill, Charlie Maxwell, and Micquel Roseman’s last home game a memorable one.
But Coleman, who would also be a senior, was missing. In September 2012, three weeks into his freshman year, he was shot leaving a party in a case of mistaken identity.
Coleman showed both academic and athletic promise. He participated in the Wildkits’ Evanston Pride feeder basketball program in eighth grade, and planned to play for Evanston in high school. He would have loved to attend the University of Kentucky after graduating this spring.
But he never got the chance. So on Friday night, in honor of his memory, Wildkits coach Mike Ellis presented Rice with a framed jersey bearing Coleman’s No. 3. The team also retired the number from its feeder program.
“He should’ve been a teammate of theirs,” said Ellis. “Those are experiences in coaching that, when you get into the sport, you don’t think [you’re] going to have to help people deal with situations like this.”
Overcome with emotion, Rice broke down when Ellis presented her with the jersey.
“It meant Dajae is still a part of this team,” she said. “He’s not here physically, but his presence is felt when they play.”
An Evanston graduate herself, Rice comes to the basketball games to support Marshall and the rest of the team. “I’m the loudest cheerleader in the stands,” she laughed. “I’ve always felt a strong connection to his peers, and that was enhanced when he passed away.”
Marshall vividly remembers the warmth Coleman brought to his life. “He wasn’t just my cousin,” he said. “He was like my brother, my best friend…If you saw him, you saw me.”
Marshall says his favorite memory of Coleman is of one Christmas break during middle school when he and a friend slept over for a week at Coleman’s house just because, laughing and having fun.
Marshall has worn No. 3 since his freshman year. He plans to wear it as long as he plays basketball. This season, the Wildkits also sport warmup t-shirts bearing Coleman’s name and number.
“I think about him every day,” said Marshall. “Everything I do, I just want to make sure I go my hardest…because I know he would do the same. I’m just doing something that he didn’t have the chance to do.”
Rice sees her son live on in how Marshall plays basketball. “He plays like Dajae played,” she said. “And they never really had that similar style [before]. Dajae was a good perimeter shooter, and Trevon has really developed that skill.”
The Wildkits felt his presence on Friday with their 35-point win, which improved their record to 21-2.
“I like to say he’s the sixth man,” said Rice. “The angel in the outfield.”