FREMONT — Teagan Keenoy stepped off the Bethany Christian basketball team bus at 5 p.m. Friday. It had been a somber hour and 15 minute ride to Fremont where his big brother’s high school sectional game was about to tipoff.
The players, though, had been so kind to him.
Teagan sat with Bethany freshman starter Beck Willems. Beck joked with him about how long it was taking to get to the game. The two made silly bets on what time the bus would pull into Fremont High.
As Bethany coach Ryan Gingerich emerged from the bus in front of the high school, he pointed to Teagan standing on the sidewalk. “This is the guy,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Teagan was there, doing everything with the Bethany basketball team, because his big brother wasn’t.
KeShawn Smith, Bethany’s standout player and Teagan’s older brother, died in a car crash Feb. 23, on his way to a basketball recruiting trip at Huntington University.
When Gingerich got the news, he broke down crying. The next day, he went to visit Liza Keenoy, Smith’s mom. Her first words were: “You guys are playing Friday. KeShawn would want you playing.”
Gingerich invited Teagan to be part of the team for the sectional game, a reminder of just how wonderful Smith was. To be with the players as they rode the bus, to sit on the bench, to go into the locker room.
Teagan was ecstatic.
The atmosphere was strange inside Fremont High Friday. People were cheering. Music was blaring. But sadness crept in at every turn.
Between the Bethany student section’s shouts of “Defense!” and “Let’s go Bruins!” was this chorus: “Thank you KeShawn.”
Bethany and Fremont both wore warm-up shirts in memory of No. 34. Fans had black shirts emblazoned on the back with “Smith 34.” The student section wore royal blue T-shirts that said, “Play for KeKe.”
As the teams warmed up, Teagan sat in the bleachers eating a soft pretzel with cheese and drinking a Sprite, He looked nervous. He really, really wanted Bethany to win this game.
“It would be because of him,” he said of his brother. Of course, Teagan said, Bethany would have a better chance at victory with Smith on the court.
In his last two games before his death, Smith scored 39 points, had 20 rebounds and was named player of the week.
Smith’s final game last Friday was senior night, that’s the last memory Teagan has with this brother.
“Well, senior night was fun,” he said, “watching him play.”
As the sectional game commenced, Fremont’s athletic director Roger Probst took center court.
“Yes, we are going to have basketball here tonight but because of the events of this past week, tonight is much more than just basketball,” he said. “Tonight is about family. Tonight is about community.”
Teagan watched from the bench. He knew what this was about.
“We all know that we lost a very fine man last week,” Probst said. “I would ask we observe a moment of silence in celebration of the life of KeShawn Smith.”
Teagan and his brother were different — night and day, really, said Liza Keenoy. But lately, they’d grown close and into that dreaded parent stage where they were keeping each other’s secrets.
“They were bonding,” said their dad Tyler Keenoy, “in a way that they never had before.”
his memories of Smith, whom he called “Bubby.”
“We liked to hit each other,” he said. “At night when I was supposed to go to bed, I would sometimes throw stuff at him.”
As a standout soccer player himself, Teagan said watching his brother play basketball was cool.
“It was impress(ive), seeing him building up his playing time and him being so good,” he said.
The brothers liked to challenge each other any time they could and that was one of Teagan’s favorite things about Smith.
“He always thought he was the best. Sometimes he would say he was the best at some things and sometimes he wasn’t. And I loved that,” Teagan said. “Now I can think back, ‘Wow, there are things I beat Shawn at and there are things he beat me at.’”
Teagan also has great memories of eating taco dinners together that their mom made.
“Or Wendy’s, the 4-for-$4 meals, he loved those,” Teagan said. “He’d probably get two of those and gobble (them) all down.”
But there was one thing that always stood out to Teagan about his brother.
“Basketball,” he said, “was always him winning.”
‘They need him’
After the first half of Friday’s game, Bethany trailed 17-16.
“I was nervous,” Teagan said emerging from the locker room after halftime with the team.
Bethany would be missing those nearly 20 points per game his brother had scored of late. Against Fremont a week ago, in its final regular season game, Bethany lost 48-46. Smith scored 17 points then.
In the second half of sectionals Friday, the game got away from Bethany. Teagan sat on the bench, his hands on his head. Then, his hands over his face.
“Thank you KeShawn,” the Bethany crowd chanted over and over as the final seconds played out. Teagan looked up at them and joined in the chorus.
Bethany lost 51-39.
How could anyone expect this team to play, really, after losing one of its own. As the players walked off the court after the game, tears streamed down their cheeks.
The loss hurt. Losing Smith hurt more.
Teagan tried to put into words what his brother might have said as he stood outside the gym after the loss.
“He would say, ‘It was a hard game,'” Teagan said. “’And we tried our best.’”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @Dana Benbow. Reach her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.