HOUSTON — Oklahoma already was heading into the Final Four with a collective heavy heart. And it just got heavier.
The Sooners are already dealing with the absence of backup center Akolda Manyang, whose brother died last week in Minnesota. Services are Saturday, so Manyang will not be with the team when they take the floor on Saturday against Villanova.
On Wednesday, starting center Khadeem Lattin got more bad news: his maternal grandmother, Brenda Fair, died Wednesday night after a brief battle with stage 4 lung cancer.
Lattin’s story was already deeply compelling. He’s a Houston native, son of a former Houston WNBA star (Monica Lamb) and grandson of David “Big Daddy” Lattin, the center for Don Haskins’ Texas Western team that shook college basketball’s white establishment 50 years ago by beating Kentucky and becoming the first all-black starting lineup to win a national championship.
Now, instead of celebrating the greatest moment of his young life amongst family, Lattin must try to focus through the heartache.
“I was sad,” he said after Thursday’s practice at NRG Stadium. “I didn’t sleep a lot. But you’ve got to win for grandma.”
OU coach Lon Kruger said Lattin made an emotional trip back home a couple weeks ago.
“He took the extra time to come see her,” Kruger said. “He had that opportunity. But it still doesn’t make it any easier, because it’s tough. Khadeem seems to be okay with it. Doesn’t lessen the sadness that he feels.
“But AK, the young guy that lost his brother a couple weeks ago, it was a reminder to all of our guys, it’s all fragile; what we’re doing is a gift and a blessing and appreciated. But still, those relationships are far more important.”
Said Lattin, “Life happens. You have to be mature. There’s not a lot I can do. Just pray and know she’s watching over me.
“She’s a spirit now, and she has my back no matter what.”