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Playing in memory of Christopher Rey Saiz

Tanner Hemphill

Tanner Hemphill

Head coach Neil King offers motivation to the team as they huddle during a timeout.

Shaun Lal, Sports Editor

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As his parents unleashed three white doves, and his friends freed personal messages expressed on balloons, the memory of Chris Saiz radiated through the gathering at his funeral.

And as the balloons soared, Saiz’s soul ascended to meet what those three doves represent: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The junior basketball captain died in a one-car accident on Dec. 20 at approximately 10 p.m., six days before his 17th birthday, after being life-flighted to the Texas Medical Center.

Saiz was a passenger in the car driven by senior teammate Derrick Jones—who was rushed to Memorial Hermann Hospital-Katy with minor injuries—when the vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, causing it to roll over on South Mason Road.

News of the accident spread quickly to family, friends, coaches, and teammates.

“I got a phone call from a varsity parent,” head basketball coach Neil King said. “It was pretty late, so I was scrambling to get to the hospital as quickly as I could. We walked into the emergency room, and people just started shaking their head, and I looked. And then it hit me that the good Lord above had taken Chris.”

The next morning, hundreds of prayers and posts circulated across social media questioning the tragic and sudden death, honoring the star athlete’s short life, and searching for answers.

“I just keep praying. I just keep looking for guidance from the Lord,” King said. “I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that God’s in control.”

A candlelight vigil was held the day after his death in front of the competition gym. Commencing the remembrance, King stood alongside his players and kept his composure while offering a tribute to his point guard.

“It’s really meant a lot to us,” senior forward Kyle Douglas said. “Without the community, it would have been much harder, and having everyone behind us makes it that much better.”

The week after Chris’ passing, the Cougar basketball team spent time together as a family, including an essential team meeting hours before the vigil.

With the death of their teammate, the young players tackled obstacles in the “game of life”, according to Coach King.

“Athletics is just a great avenue for young people to collaborate, and be together, and go through the trials and tribulations, and adversity and the joys, and the highs and the lows [of life],” King said.

And although the buzzer sounded for Chris, the game clock ran on for his team.

The team is dedicating the remainder of the season to their fallen captain and on Tuesday, Feb. 7, Cinco Ranch retired Saiz’ #23 jersey.

Only one day after his funeral they stepped back onto the court donning Chris Saiz sweatbands in the Alvin Holiday Classic, which granted Chris with an Honorary All-Team Award.

“We weren’t successful in the game,” King said. “But we played with heavy hearts. We’ll never forget Chris, and we want to always honor him.”

As a tribute in their first game of the tournament against Chalmette, the team stepped onto the court with four starters.

“Chris was out there as well in spirit,” King said.

Emotions were at its peak without the team’s second-leading scorer, and adjustments are still being made to the team’s style.

“We kind of had to change the identity of the team because Chris was such a vital member,” King said. “He was a team captain, he could score, [and] he could defend. He could do so many things on the floor.”

Senior Montrel Smith entered the game after an officials’ timeout to replace the point guard position, but the entire team as a whole was forced to tweak its strategy.

“I don’t think our approach changed as much as people’s roles have changed,” Douglas said. “Other than that, I think that once all of us find our new role, the game plan won’t change.”

Although the athletes are finding it tremendously difficult, they are attempting to rediscover a sense of normalcy.

“Practices are the same, unfortunately,” Douglas joked.

However, they suffered a rough stretch in the first few weeks back, losing three straight games.

“Everybody mourns and grieves in their own way, and we are just taking it day by day,” King said. “The team [was] doing as well as expected under these circumstances.”

In their home game on Jan. 10 against Morton Ranch, just 21 days after Chris’ passing, the scoreboard finally read a Cougar win.

“It felt like the weight had been lifted off of our chest,” Douglas said. “Now, we have to look forward to the rest of the season, and not overlook anybody because anyone can get beat in our district.”

They will complete their season on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Seven Lakes—a must-win game in order to advance to the playoffs.

“I’m sure if you ask the players, they’re probably looking forward to the Seven Lakes game,” King said. “But as a coach, you’re just taking it one game at a time.”

“Everybody looks forward to Seven Lakes, of course,” Douglas said.

Still, the coaching staff is trying to stay positive and supportive for their players while maintaining a strong focus on the integrity of the game.

“We’re trying to keep the young men accountable for their actions,” King said. “You know, we’re not feeling sorry for them; we’re continuing to push them. Every time they walk on the floor, we’re going to give them a chance to be successful.”

As a family, the team will push forward, but they will never forget the memory of their brother.

“They shared that common goal of wanting to play and just loving the game of basketball,” King said. “That is what Chris would have wanted them to do.”

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Playing in memory of Christopher Rey Saiz