All day Thursday, Lawrence North girls basketball coach Chris Giffin told himself he wouldn’t cry during the moment of silence before his team’s home game against Lawrence Central.
Then the moment came. And Giffin cried.
He wasn’t alone. There were several tears shed as Lawrence North played its first game since the sudden death on Monday of Jordan Hankins, a standout on the basketball court and in the classroom at Lawrence North. Hankins, 19, was a sophomore on the Northwestern women’s basketball team. She was found dead in her dorm room Monday.
The stunning news rocked the basketball community locally and throughout college basketball.
“I loved her like a daughter,” said Giffin, in his fifth season as the Lawrence North girls coach. “She was an assassin on the practice floor and the court. She had a great passion for basketball. But the thing I remember the most is her smile and the way she approached people with disabilities and people that weren’t able to give her anything back.”
Giffin, a special education teacher, said Hankins is the only person, other than family, who babysat his 6-year-old daughter, Bailey.
“She was such a beautiful person,” Giffin said, “which makes it so sad.”
The Lawrence North team wore t-shirts with a portrait of Hankins wearing her No. 5 Northwestern jersey with the Chicago skyline in the background. The t-shirts had her last name on the top with “#BallforJ” below the picture.
Hankins was a key part of teams that won back-to-back regional titles in 2014 and ’15. While the core players from those teams are off at college, several current Lawrence North players were close with Hankins. Destiny Washington, who graduated the same year as Hankins and is a sophomore at Ball State, attended Thursday’s game, a 77-32 win over Lawrence Central.
“She was always that energetic person,” Lawrence North senior Mya Parker said of Hankins. “She was always that person that wanted you to smile. She was the one dancing in the locker room and jumping around and making us laugh. There were a lot of fun times with her.”
Giffin said the memorial service is set for Jan. 19.
On Wednesday night, Jared Hankins honored his sister by taking the court for the Lawrence North boys basketball team.
Jared, sporting the same No. 5 jersey his sister wore at Lawrence North and Northwestern, took the court for Lawrence North with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Jared, a sophomore, didn’t have to be there. His teammates and coaches would have understood if he’d stayed home with his family. He considered it, if only briefly. Jared made the decision Monday night that his sister would have wanted him to play.
Jordan was the one, after all, who taught him to shoot on their backyard hoop. “Keep your eyes on the basket,” she’d tell him. Jordan would want him out there.
“I felt like it would be wrong if I didn’t play,” Jared said. “She would have wanted me to play. The world never stops. Even if you lose someone, you have to keep pushing. My parents asked me if I wanted to play. But I knew I wanted to.”
Hankins played Tuesday, too. He poured in 10 points in a 68-45 win over Speedway in the first round of the county tournament.
“I was in attack mode,” he said. “Before this happened, I wasn’t attacking as much. But that’s how I’m going play. I’m just going to keep attacking.”
The Northwestern women’s team canceled its game Wednesday at Minnesota. The Wildcats will play their first game since Jordan’s death against Indiana at home on Saturday.
Wednesday’s game was an intense, defensive struggle. Warren Central won, 52-43, to advance to the tournament semifinals on Friday. Warren Central and Lawrence North are familiar rivals, tough competitors in all sports. But there were tender moments on the court as well, as when Warren Central guard Allante Harper reached out a hand to Hankins as he left the court.
Kyle Neddenriep (@KyleNeddenriep) January 12, 2017
When Hankins emerged from the locker room, he was greeted to hugs from several Lawrence North students.
“That type of situation is really tough, especially for a kid,” Lawrence North senior Ra Kpedi said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on in his head, but we have to be there to support him and do everything we can to help him. Jared is a tough kid. He’s a good kid. It has to be hard to lose a sibling that close. But hopefully he can stay upbeat and positive and remember the good times.”
Jared said his teammates have been supportive in the days following his sister’s death. The normalcy of being with the team is part of the reason he wanted to play this week.
“They are telling me to stay positive and stay strong,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing.”
Those little things Jordan used to tell him ring in his head now. Keep your eyes on the basket. Cut without the ball. Stay aggressive. Don’t take a second off on defense.
It’s funny, Jared said, that he’s wearing No. 5 for the first time this season. He’s always found J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers entertaining, which is part of the reason he picked No. 5. But now it’s all for Jordan.
“I want to represent her,” he said. “I’m just going to keep playing for her.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.