The black No. 15 jersey stood out in the Bibb County regional championship photo.
The Choctaws, dressed in white and ecstatic after winning the Class 4A boys Central Regional, held it front and center.
Desmine Phillips is that important to them.
“We dedicated our season to him,” junior Maleake Kersh said. “Everywhere we go, we take his jersey, and we made sure his jersey was in that picture.”
The Choctaws, after Thursday’s 48-38 win over Handley in the regional finals, happily remembered Phillips, an energetic point guard who regularly wore Superman T-shirts.
They also continued to mourn him.
Phillips died in a November 2013 car accident near Centerville as he drove home from basketball practice. He was 16.
“We still think about him every day,” senior Rashawn Heard said.
Heard has a Superman logo tattooed on his right shoulder for Phillips. Coach Russ Wallace’s small children all bought Superman T-shirts in Phillips’ honor.
The Choctaws often break their huddle by mentioning Phillips and annually honor their most improved player with an award named for him.
“He’s our teammate,” Wallace said. “He’s right here with us. He probably gets made at our guards, just like I do, with some of the stuff they do.”
Kersh and Heard, who scored 12 points each Thursday, vividly remember first hearing of Phillips’ death and their initial disbelief.
“I still don’t believe it to this day,” Kersh said.
Those emotions — and Phillips’ jersey — will be there next week when the Choctaws (27-9) play in the state semifinals for the first time since 1992.
However happy they were when the buzzer sounded Thursday, they were sure Phillips was happier.
“DP, he’s jumping up and down right now,” Wallace said. “The Good Lord is probably telling him, ‘Calm down, son. Calm down.’
“He had so much energy. He was such a character.”