The roots of Earnest Killum Jr.'s story began July 11, 2006, when LSU freshman Erica Killum, a Georgia native, contacted Student Sports -- now ESPNHS -- about an online photo she'd never seen of her brother Earnest.
Similar to her brother, Marcus Woods, Killum in many ways idolized Earnest. Because their father, Earnest Killum Sr., resides in the Peach State and they live 3,000 miles apart, Marcus and Erica don't know one another.
But they know a little bit more about each other now. Here's Killum's recollection of the inquiry that spawned this story:
"For my second semester Freshman English class, I was instructed to write a story about someone that made an impact on my life. After much consideration, I chose my brother, Earnest Killum, Jr. He died from a stroke 14 yrs prior to my meaningful assignment. Because I was only four at the time of his death, I looked online to find more information. Many articles yielded descriptions of his life and death, as well as classmates reactions to his sudden departure. One of the articles featured on studentsports.com had a picture that I'd never seen in any scrapbook or family portraits. Once I saw the author's information, I immediately contacted Ronnie Flores to ask him about more photos and if he could provide any more information to assist my essay. He responded in a timely manner and provided me with information I could use. Not only did I receive an 'A", I took away a strong message that no matter how hard it may seem, if you want something bad enough, you'll do what it takes to strive for greatness. My brother loved basketball. It was his passion, his heart, and something that he cherished dearly. I thanked Mr. Flores for providing me with an extra voice and an opportunity for someone, even if it was just my teacher, to learn a little bit more about my brother, Earnest Killum, Jr." [sic]
Killum Jr. loved to crack jokes. He teased "Hawk" and Barfield that they should date. Barfield was vocal about her feelings, while Hawkins deflected his by trying to concentrate on basketball. Killum Jr. kept pressing on, even after Hawkins left for Long Beach State and Barfield departed for Oregon State the year after Earnest did.
"He still talks about you," Killum Jr. told Barfield.
"Man, Hawk, why you playing?" he said to Hawkins.
Before his death, Killum Jr. would tease Lynwood coach Bill Lee about retiring his No. 23.
"Are you guys going to retire my jersey? Come' on, coach. When you retiring my jersey?!"
Five days after a memorable ceremony at Lynwood to retire his No. 23, Killum Jr. died.
"Periodically, he would ask me about it," Lee said. "I thought, 'Does he know something we don't know?'"
After his death, Barfield transferred to Long Beach State to be closer to her family. Today, Hawkins and Barfield are married with three children.