Prep jersey re­tire­ment emo­tional for Looney

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - By Con­nor Le­tourneau

MIL­WAU­KEE — In fall 2011, Kevon Looney was weigh­ing whether to change his jersey num­ber for his sopho­more sea­son at Alexan­der Hamilton High School in Mil­wau­kee.

No. 5, which he had worn as a fresh­man, held no spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance to him. Just as Looney was about to ask his head coach for a new num­ber, his close friend, Wati Ma­jeed, de­manded that Looney keep it.

“You’re No. 5, that’s who you are,” said Ma­jeed, who had made a sign with Looney’s No. 5 that was fea­tured on a lo­cal TV news sta­tion’s com­mer­cial for high school sports tele­casts. “You can play all five po­si­tions and guard all five po­si­tions.”

Thurs­day af­ter­noon, as his No. 5 jersey was re­tired in front of packed bleach­ers at Hamilton High’s gym­na­sium, Looney knew that only one thing could make this day bet­ter: hav­ing Wati in his pre­ferred seat — front row, cen­ter — to wit­ness it all.

Ma­jeed — to whom Kevon had been close since meet­ing him in fourth grade through his older brother, Kevin — died Oct. 14, two days be­fore the War­riors’ sea­son opener, from what Ma­jeed’s fam­ily be­lieves were com­pli­ca­tions from a seizure. He was 28.

And though Looney has spent more than seven weeks griev­ing the loss of a friend he con­sid­ered fam­ily, noth­ing could fully pre­pare him for the range of emo­tions he felt Thurs­day.

“Wati came to all these games,” Looney said. “He was al­ways sit­ting in the front row. He’s the rea­son I still wear No. 5, so it’s kind of sur­real be­ing here know­ing that he was at ev­ery game.”

With the day off from prac­tice ahead of Golden State’s Fri­day night game against the Bucks, Looney’s team­mates came to see him hon­ored at Hamilton. For about 20 min­utes in the school li­brary, Looney fielded ques­tions from the Wild­cats’ boys and girls bas­ket­ball teams, stress­ing the im­por­tance of stay­ing in school and get­ting good grades.

Wait­ing in Looney’s old gym­na­sium were more than 1,000 stu­dents who had been gath­ered for an assem­bly and told sim­ply that a sur­prise awaited. When Stephen Curry, Kevin Du­rant, Klay Thomp­son, Dray­mond Green and oth­ers fol­lowed Looney onto the court,

teenagers roared their ap­proval.

On a wall be­hind Looney’s seated team­mates, to the left of a big green score­board, were two ban­ners: one com­mem­o­rat­ing Looney’s 2014 McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­can se­lec­tion, the other tout­ing Looney as the 2013-14 Wis­con­sin Ga­torade Player of the Year.

There were high­lights from Looney’s high school days, cheer­lead­ers with pom-poms lined up pep-rally style and sev­eral speeches. With mi­cro­phone in hand, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr needed only two sen­tences to put Looney’s rise in per­spec­tive: “Just four years ago, he was play­ing on this court. Now, he’s start­ing at cen­ter for the War­riors.”

Those who knew Looney at Hamilton are pleased to see his suc­cess, but they’re not nec­es­sar­ily sur­prised. In his four years on the Wild­cats’

var­sity, Looney was dom­i­nant, scor­ing 2,122 points and re­ceiv­ing al­most ev­ery in­di­vid­ual ac­co­lade Wis­con­sin of­fers.

What sep­a­rated him from some other play­ers who’ve roamed Hamilton’s hall­ways was that his dili­gence matched his up­side. In ad­di­tion to main­tain­ing an in­ten­sive work­out reg­i­men, Looney didn’t let his GPA dip be­low 3.4. Ev­ery­thing he did was with his sin­gu­lar goal — reach­ing the NBA — in mind.

As part of fresh­man P.E., Hamilton re­quires that stu­dents com­plete a four-week ro­ta­tion of swim­ming in the school pool. Looney didn’t know how to swim, and at first, he was ner­vous even to put his face in the wa­ter.

Af­ter about three weeks, he was swim­ming laps with ease.

“He knew in the swim­ming sit­u­a­tion that there were so many peo­ple that were bet­ter than him,” said P.E. teacher Jeff Ho­gan, who of­ten tells that story when try­ing to teach his classes about the im­por­tance of per­se­ver­ance. “But that didn’t pro­hibit him from say­ing, ‘I’m go­ing to give my best ef­fort, go­ing to give 100 per­cent, keep do­ing it and see where that gets me.’ ”

A half-decade ago, when Looney was emerg­ing as a top-15 re­cruit na­tion­ally, he and Ma­jeed some­times talked about how cool it’d be to see No. 5 hang­ing on a wall in­side Hamilton’s gym. It was just a day­dream, the type of far-off idea that was fun to pon­der.

Be­fore Looney posed with his No. 5 Hamilton jersey Thurs­day, a school fac­ulty mem­ber asked stu­dents if they knew his num­ber. Hun­dreds spread their hands wide as they shouted, “Five!”

“This al­ready meant a lot, but not hav­ing Wati here makes it mean even more,” said Kevin Looney, who con­sid­ered Ma­jeed his best friend. “He was one of the peo­ple that helped in­flu­ence Kevon to get to where he is right now. Hav­ing this num­ber re­tired, it’s just an­other way to honor Wati’s mem­ory.”

Cour­tesy: War­riors

War­riors cen­ter Kevon Looney holds up his au­to­graphed No. 5 jersey from his days at Alexan­der High.

Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle

Looney warms up wear­ing shoes with an in­scrip­tion to his child­hood friend, Wati Ma­jeed, who back in high school per­suaded him to wear No. 5 be­cause of his ver­sa­til­ity. Ma­jeed died Oct. 14.

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