This One's for Omar
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Jan. 23, 2010, Kansas State Official Sports Report. To register for your free subscription to the Kansas State Official Sports Report, visit www.officialsportsreport.com.
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Luis Colon received a telephone call from back home in Carolina, Puerto Rico, last Monday afternoon from his mother.
It wasn't the "good luck" call against the Texas Longhorns that he expected. Instead, it was to notify Luis that his cousin, Omar, had been killed by a gunshot on the crime infested streets of Carolina.
"She just told me not to lose my mind, but she felt that I needed to know," Colon reflected after Thursday's Wildcat practice. Sadly, he summarized, "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Like in the projects of cities in the United States, Colon said, "That's life in Puerto Rico."
Colon said he didn't know if it was police fire, or street fire that claimed Omar's life: "I didn't want to ask questions. I wanted to concentrate on Texas."
Omar was 25 and the one Colon credits for urging him on in the sport of basketball.
"When I was six or seven, we cut the bottom out of containers of milk and nailed them to a palm tree as our basketball hoop," Colon said. "He told me what a 3-point shot was, and what a jump shot was."
Laughing, Colon, who was more into kickball, added, "I was too fat to play. I just dunked it; I couldn't shoot."
Eventually, Omar saw potential in Luis: "He told me to keep playing basketball and do the right things. He motivated me ... told me, 'You can do a lot of things in your life with this sport.' "
Colon said, "I talked with him the day before the game and just told him to watch me on ESPN. (Pausing) I know he was watching from upstairs."
He would add, "The rest of my basketball career is dedicated to him."
It's not the first time Colon faced a "wrong place, wrong time" family death. As a 12-year-old, he said, "My cousin (14) was killed at the baseball park. Guys stole pocket change to get money. My cousin was not involved ... he was running the bases, but he got the bullet and died before my eyes for no reason."
Pausing, and with emotion, Colon said, "I've seen a lot of bad in my life."
Hours after hearing the news of Omar's death, Luis went to the Bramlage Coliseum to take on America's No. 1 team in the Texas Longhorns, and in particular, a body-to-body matchup with 6-foot-10, 290-pound Dexter Pittman.
Colon scored two points, claimed five rebounds, had one assist, one blocked shot and two steals in 18 minutes in the Wildcat victory. Pittman had six points, seven boards and one blocked shot in a loss.
"I tried to make life uncomfortable for him," Colon said of his game plan in holding Pittman well below his season averages in points and rebounds.
"He's a great teammate," said coach Frank Martin of Colon. "That's the reason he's a starter for us. You can trust him. In life, you want to surround yourself with people you trust. Luis is committed to making this team better. To be able to handle that situation emotionally, and then go out and compete and play the way he did is a tribute to who he is as a human being."