Published: March 14, 2014
BOULDER — His memories of that night, of that game, flash through his mind in HD. They are eternally stuck on replay:
Cheyenne Mountain's five-point lead with 3 minutes left, the crowd clapping in unison as the clock trickled to 00:00, his parents waving from the bleachers, the details of passing faces in the hand-shake line.
He remembers his superstitious pregame routine. The ritual of lacing his shoes unfolded without fail: left sock then right sock, tie the left shoe, tie the right shoe. They were his brother's old kicks, a pair of hand-me-downs from Terel's first college practice at Colorado State.
Under Armours, size 11. How could he forget? He always wore his gym shoes a little big.
Turray Hughes remembers the bus ride home. Laughing with teammates after Cheyenne Mountain's triumph at Falcon, already pumped for the next game, a few days later. "You know how it is," Turray says. "It's always about the next game."
There was no next game. Not for Turray. Not in high school, not in a pickup game with strangers at the Y, not in a church league with old buddies when he's 40.
His first game at Cheyenne Mountain also was his final game.
Turray is 17, and he will never play basketball again.
Cruel? This is the worst manner of theft. This is dream stealing, from a kid.
"I just kind of assumed I would play basketball until I die," he says.
Turray pauses, and remembers again: "Actually, they told me I could continue to play basketball, but I could die. I had to think about which was more important."
The problem was, and is, his heart. Turray was diagnosed with Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that can cause sudden death. "Basically, it's an enlarged heart," Turray says, and the risks were scary enough he was told to quit basketball in the middle of his junior season, last season, at Cheyenne Mountain.
"They told him, 'You'll never be able to play basketball again,'" Indians coach J'on St. Clair says. "You can imagine how that feels for a kid. It was pretty devastating."
His parents, not Turray, noticed the initial signs that something was off. His mother, Bregitta, saw Turray would hold his chest as he ran down the court. Turray figured he was simply out of shape, that the issue was nothing a season of hoops couldn't cure.
"When I found out it was over," he says, "it felt like I lost a loved one."
So he became a team manager. Turray spent this season, a brilliant one for the 21-6 Indians, on the bench, to be around his friends, and the game, as much as anything.
"He's a good kid," St. Clair says. "I wanted him around the team. It's a sad thing, but I can say he's taken it in stride."
Turray is still able to reenact the moves of his favorite player, Kobe Bryant. "It never worked, but I have to try it," he says. He's still up for a game of H-O-R-S-E with his dad, Eddie Hughes, a CSU Hall of Famer who played for the Nuggets in the late '90s.
"Sweetest jumpshot you've ever seen," Turray says. "I used to tell my dad, 'You're getting old. I got this game." He'd give me a 10-0 lead, and we're playing to 11. Then he'd come back on me. We'd keep playing 'til I won. I never won."
Oh, he's winning. How he's handled a stolen dream, the loss of his first love, really, puts him ahead. During blowouts, Turray leans over to remind the coach he's ready to go in, just for one 3-pointer. Then I'll foul somebody and you can take me out, he says.
Turray looks fine, a model of young health, 6-feet of potential in sneakers. The only visible difference is his gameday wardrobe; instead of the Indians' maroon jersey, Turray's in a maroon sweatsuit. The scene strikes of criminal irony; as badly as his heart wants to play, his heart is the reason he can't.
"Shooting 3s was my favorite part," he says. "I had a decent shot, enough to go in once in a while when I got lucky."
Cheyenne Mountain's season ended Friday, the victim of a 79-75 overtime loss to Denver South in a Class 4A state semifinal at Coors Events Center.
Keep your heads up, fellas.
At least you got to play.