Deshawn Sims played in Sunday's exhibition contest against Michigan Tech with a heavy heart. Early Friday evening, Sims brother Marcus Pruitt (16) was shot in the head and killed as he and two eighteen year old friends walked in an alley way in Detroit. One of the eighteen year olds was shot in the leg, while the other escaped without injury.
The death of someone so young is hard to take under any circumstance, but to have it be the result of senseless violence has made dealing with it that much tougher for Sims.
"We were pretty close," Sims said. "Marcus was the funniest kid. Everybody loved him. Everybody respected him. The neighborhood took another kid."
The tragic loss has shaken the Sims family to its core, but they found brief refuge on the basketball court in recent days. Just one day after finding out the news, Sims was back at Crisler Arena practicing with his team. Then on Sunday, with his entire family in attendance, Sims made the tough decision to go ahead and play in the game. It was an effort to try and take his mind off the obvious pain that comes with losing someone of such significance.
"I wake up terribly sometimes," admitted Sims. "I've definitely slept well…then I wake up kind of bad. I try not to let it bother me right now. Once I get off the court, that's when everything starts to hit me. When I'm playing it doesn't really bother me, so that's how I try to take my emotions away. These guys did a good job of trying to keep it off my mind and everything. The guys made me comfortable…the coaches and the players. That kind of took it off of my mind for a while."
Michigan assistant Andrew Moore wasn't surprised to see the young freshman decide to get back on the hardwood right away. He could sense the kind of comfort Sims gained from being around his Wolverine family.
"I think he wanted to do it for no other reason than he wanted to be around his 16 other teammates and our coaching staff," said Moore on WTKA's weekly assistants coaches show. "He has his own family at home that I know he relies on heavily, but this is kind of his family away from home and I think he felt good about being around his teammates and this staff at a time like that."
Sims was a bit taken aback by the outpouring of support he received from the team. Not because hey were so willing to be there for him, but because of how much their presence actually helped in the early part of his grieving process.
"Coach Amaker did a great job helping me…trying to take it off my mind…comforting me," Sims said. "I appreciate that. There are not too many coaches, players, or staff that would care for a player that way. They embraced me. Coach Amaker and his wife took me in, and all of the other coaches helped. They told me if there was anything that I needed, to let them know. Some programs don't even care. I was real close to my brother and they knew how close I was. They felt my pain.''
For Dion Harris, being there in Sims' time of need is a bit more personal because he knew Pruitt growing up. He has gone the extra mile to be a source of strength for his young teammate.
"Just for myself being that we are from same neighborhood… I knew his brother, I know his family, and we've kind of grew up around the same people," said Harris. I've tried to extend like a brotherly hand to him almost. Just being everywhere he is when we come to the gym. Just talking to him constantly wherever we're at."
Sims has used the support he has received from his teammates and coaches to help hold himself together so he can be a pillar of strength for his family. He knows that he will be the one that they look to lean on.
"My family really needs me right now," he said. "I'm the oldest male in my family, so they wanted me to be there right now with them.''
That Sims has shown such resolve in the face of tragedy is a clear sign of the perspective he has about the priorities in life. He will always be there for his family, and he will always be sure to celebrate his brother's memory.
"Deshawn met with the counselor and was asked what this will mean to his life…aside from being a very painful thing," said Sims' former coach and mentor Herman Cooper. "Deshawn told him it meant he was going to work his hardest to be the best he could be because that's what his brother would want."
The funeral for Marcus Pruitt will take place Thursday, November 9th at Solomon Temple in Detroit. The family hour will take place at 10:00 am followed by the funeral at 11:00am. Solomon Temple is located at 2341 East 7 Mile Rd, Detroit, MI 48234.