On Tuesday, just three days prior to the start of practice, Texas A&M will get a stark reminder about the tragic loss the program suffered in May.
The parents of Tobi Oyedeji will be on campus to visit College Station and see the memorial locker, a 12th-man plaque that will always be on the honor wall that the Aggies created for Oyedeji. And they will visit with the coaching staff, led by Mark Turgeon, and the teammates Oyedeji was supposed to have. They include his scheduled roommate, Daniel Alexander, and good friend, sophomore Ray Turner, who was with Oyedeji at the Houston-area Bellaire High prom on May 16 (he was dating a girl at the school).
The 17-year-old Oyedeji was on his way home from the prom when he was involved in a fatal early-morning car accident that also claimed the life of a 52-year-old oncology nurse, Gertha Augustin, after Oyedeji's car hit Augustin's.
"The family is doing the best they can,'' said Turgeon, who has stayed in contact. "Like with any death, the first year is probably the toughest since there is the first time they're going through things.''
Turgeon and the Aggies started to endow a scholarship in Oyedeji's name soon after the accident. Turgeon said the money is up to $40,000.
Turgeon said Alexander, who is from Dripping Springs, Texas, and Oyedeji had become close over Facebook and through the recruiting process.
"They were a week away from being roommates [in summer school],'' Turgeon said. "It hurt the younger guys [in the recruiting class] and even the guys we have committed for 2011. They were all close to him. It really shook the younger kids up.''
Turner told Turgeon he wanted to honor Oyedeji by wearing the No. 35 that Oyedeji wore in high school and was scheduled to wear for the Aggies. Turgeon said the NCAA also approved the Aggies' wearing a patch on their uniforms in honor of Oyedeji.
"The reason I wanted to wear Tobi's number was me and Tobi were like brothers,'' Turner said. "We played each other like it was a friendship, and we both were having fun with the game of basketball. It was always entertaining. He was like my little brother. I also feel like he should been blessed to play Division I, and he wasn't able to accomplish that.
"By me wearing his number, I can share his spirit with everyone."
Turner was with Oyedeji at the prom and said Oyedeji kept saying how he couldn't wait to get to College Station.
At 2 a.m., Turner left Oyedeji, who dropped his prom date off at her house. Turner said he didn't go with him and was with his prom date eating. Then, in the early-morning hours, he was told there had been an accident and rushed to the hospital.
Turgeon said he was asked Thursday about the basketball-related effect of not having Oyedeji in the program. While the query sounds insensitive and trivial, there will be a lasting void for the Aggies.
"It's not just that he would have played this year, it's the type of kid that he was and what he was going to do for Texas A&M,'' Turgeon said. "He would have helped us recruit because he was off the charts. There will be a long-term effect for years here.''
Turner added, "Tobi would have brought a lot of chemistry to the team. He was very outgoing, social, funny. He was a character and he has that personality. He's laidback and cool. When it comes to basketball, he was ready to go all the time. He played hard nonstop and practiced hard and was motivated all the time. That's what I'm trying to do all the time now that he couldn't be here. I'm trying to push myself like he did so that I can fulfill my dream -- and his as well. I want to contribute for his parents as well so that they know he's never forgotten. I'm going to be wearing his jersey so they can see that I'm contributing to the team for him.''
Turgeon's actions since Oyedeji's death have been commendable. But that shouldn't be a surprise. He has run an honorable program since he arrived in College Station from Wichita State.
The Aggies, who are consistently one of the more underappreciated programs, are once again a likely NCAA-bid contender. They lost all-everything guard Donald Sloan, an injured Derrick Roland (he suffered a freak broken leg in late December) and forward Bryan Davis off last season's team, which fell in overtime by two to Purdue in the NCAA tournament's second round.
The Aggies return guard B.J. Holmes, who certainly benefited from having to play off Sloan and Davis. He is quick enough to find the openings and get off his shot. The committee of Holmes, Dash Harris , Naji Hibbert and Khris Middleton certainly gives the Ags a shot to compete with any other backcourt in the Big 12.
The frontcourt of Turner, Nathan Walkup, David Loubeau, Alexander and Keith Davis should offer enough depth for Aggies to be in the mix for an NCAA bid. Texas A&M figures to be in the middle of the Big 12 pack, behind Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Baylor, and possibly fending off Colorado, which has two Wooden preseason All-Americans in Cory Higgins and Alec Burks.
The Aggies will play with heavy hearts, but they should be a scrappy bunch again with a collection of players who aren't household names yet. And playing in College Station is always a tough out.
Turgeon has handled the Oyedeji tragedy as best as anyone possibly could in his position. He recruited him for a few years, but never got a chance to coach him. But he's making sure that everyone around the program doesn't forget Oyedeji and what he could have meant to the program. Gestures like Turner's help. It has humbled this bunch to realize that they are privileged and should cherish the opportunity they have been given to play.
"I think they're handling everything so well,'' Turner said. "I like that they're actually doing something for him, and he's never going to be forgotten. The scholarship means that he'll always be remembered. I think the coaches have done a great job in all of this.''