It still hasn’t fully hit the Laveen Cesar Chavez basketball team. But it will soon enough. On certain days.
To prepare for that, coach Gary Lee said he reached out to Glendale Deer Valley coaches, who last season tried to deal with the death of junior point guard Quentin Hoffman, who drowned last summer in his apartment complex pool.
Six months later, the family found out through an autopsy that Hoffman had an enlarged heart.
Cesar Chavez junior forward Armeil Watson died after collapsing in late April during an open-gym game. An autopsy for the exact cause of death has not come back yet.
“They (Deer Valley coaches) told us there are milestones, times that will come up and they’ll realize he is not with us,” Lee said about dealing with the loss. “I haven’t really talked to the kids about it yet. But it’s going to be the first day of school, the first day of basketball season, senior graduation. Those are the days when reality hits that he’s not with us.”
Watson was a 6-foot-5 athlete who would have helped Cesar Chavez as it transitions down from Division I to III, where it could be the favorite to win state next season.
On Friday, only five players for Cesar Chavez played in the Best In Basketball Summer Invitational at Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, because some had to work or it conflicted with family commitments.
Still, Chavez beat Glendale Cactus and had a strong Gilbert Highland team, with 16 players, led by 6-foot-9 senior Tim Fuller, on the ropes with 8 minutes left, before Highland pulled away for the victory.
Forward Malik Porter, Watson’s cousin, wasn’t bothered by having nobody to sub on Friday. Losing his cousin, he said, drives him more on the court.
“We remember him through basketball,” Porter said. “It’s bringing us closer.”
The day after Watson’s death, players and their families did car washes to raise money to pay for Watson’s funeral. Phoenix Pinnacle and Phoenix Mountain Pointe programs contributed money, Lee said. Cesar Chavez went through GoFundMe to help.
Both Porter and guard Kenny Sutton were on the court in the open gym when Watson collapsed and died.
“We play for him,” Sutton said. “He would have wanted us to go out there and play hard and win for him.”
Cesar Chavez raised money for the family during a Cinco de Mayo basketball tournament early this month. Jars were set up for any leftover change to help.
Lee said Watson’s mother was 13 when Armeil was born. There are two other young siblings. His mother was five-months pregnant at the time of his death, Lee said.
“The family said, they grew up together,” Lee said. “He was a 1 year old and she was 14. He was a big part of the child care for the young ones.”
Deer Valley coach Jed Dunn finds solace in the fact that Hoffman found Jesus Christ before he died through Dunn’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ team camp.
“The only thing that I can rest my head at night on is that Quentin was saved at my FCA team camp,” Dunn said. “I would suggest to make yourself available for the family and the kids who are struggling with the death.”