FREMONT, Ind. – Teagan Keenoy stepped off the Bethany Christian High School (Goshen, Indiana) team bus at 5 p.m. Friday. It had been a somber ride to Fremont, Indiana, where his big brother’s sectional basketball game was about to tip off.
The players had been so kind to him. Teagan sat with Bethany freshman starter Beck Willems. The two made silly bets on what time the bus would pull into Fremont High.
As Bethany coach Ryan Gingerich emerged from the bus, he pointed at Teagan. “This is the guy,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Teagan was doing everything with the Bethany basketball team in place of his older brother. KeShawn Smith, Bethany’s standout player, died in a car accident Feb. 23 on his way to a basketball recruiting trip at Huntington University.
When Gingerich got the news, he broke down. The next day, he visited 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 KeShawn. To be with the players on the bus and sit on the bench with them.
Teagan was ecstatic.
Inside Fremont High, the atmosphere felt strange. People were cheering. Music was blaring. But sadness emerged 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 wore black shirts featuring “Smith 34.” The student section wore blue T-shirts that read, “Play for KeKe.”
In his last two games, Smith had scored 39 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and was named player of the week. Smith’s final game last Friday was senior night, and that’s the last memory Teagan has with this brother.
Fremont athletic director Roger Probst spoke before the game.
“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.”
STANDOUT HS PLAYER DIES IN CAR ACCIDENT: KeShawn Smith dies in crash on way to recruiting visit
Memories of KeShawn
Teagan and his brother were different — night and day, said Liza Keenoy. But lately, they’d grown close.
“They were bonding,” said their dad, Tyler Keenoy, “in a way that they never had before.”
Teagan talked about 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.”
The brothers challenged each other, 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.’ “
But there was one thing that always stood out to Teagan.
“Basketball,” he said, “was always him winning.”
‘Thank you, KeShawn’
After the first half, Bethany trailed, 17-16. “I was nervous,” Teagan said as he emerged from the locker room with the team.
In the second half, 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 as the final seconds played out. Teagan joined in the chorus. Bethany lost, 51-39.
As the players walked off the court, tears streamed down their cheeks. The loss hurt. Losing Smith hurt more.
Teagan tried to put into words what his brother might have said.
“He would say, ‘It was a hard game. And we tried our best.’ ”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @Dana Benbow. Reach her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.