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Playing through his pain

Weeks ago, John Essex junior Tavoris Merriweather knew his team would have a crucial game against area foe Sweet Water Friday night. He knew his team would have a shot to place a firm grasp on the first place seat in the area.

He also knew the challenges it faced. He understood its need to develop its press defense and its ability to work against opposing press defenses. He knew the necessity of developing team chemistry and exercising better shot selection. What he could not possibly fathom at that time was the off-court difficulties he would soon encounter.

Merriweather lost his father, Charles Avery, to a heart attack on Dec. 22.

“It was hard,” Merriweather said. “But then you’ve got to realize that you’ve got to go on with life.”

“I think it’s changed him,” Hornets head coach Rodney Dixon said of Merriweather’s response to the loss. “I think he’s got a better perspective on what life has to offer. He thinks more. I can say it as a coach and as a teacher, it’s made him grow up real fast.”

In the weeks since his father’s death, Merriweather has faced the customary accompanying struggles. There has been the sadness. There have been questions.

“It was kind of tough to focus, but you have to let it flow,” the laid back Merriweather said of his fight to shut everything out while on the basketball court.

However, through it all, Merriweather also said that something else has developed within him. The loss of his father has helped him to steel a new-found resolve as it underscored many of the lessons the young man gleaned from his time with Avery.

“He told me that when you start a job, never give up. Do it right,” Merriweather said. “It makes you want to play harder. It makes you want to be more aggressive. It makes you want to take it to the top. I feel like that is one of the ways I can use my talent.”

That determination has acted as a beacon for both Merriweather’s teammates and coaches.

“For me, he’s like a rock. I can show off his determination,” Dixon said of the motivational lessons provided by Merriweather’s presence and effort in the wake of personal tragedy. “It’s showing me that he’s one of the ultimate team players. He’s showing me that I can count on him.”

The wounds are still fresh for Merriweather, who shies from questions regarding the subject. He is noticeably more reserved than before the loss. His demeanor is different. It’s more sober, more demure.

Before the calamity, he was open, even boisterous. He was, in short, a teenage boy.

The change has not been lost on those around him.

“I kind of think he is showing the qualities of a grown man,” Dixon said.

Merriweather does not deny the pain he has experienced as he talks of the importance of being able to smile and enjoy time with teammates, a group whose meaning in his life has reached new levels in recent weeks.

“The guys are a special group,” Dixon said. “They help him to take his mind off it.”

For Merriweather, the coming months will not be easy. But, largely because of the loss he experienced within his off-court family, he now knows a little better how to help his other family be more successful on the court.

“We can all stay focused and stay together as a team,” Merriweather said of the secret to the Hornets’ success. “Just love one another.”