Thursday, February 17, 2011
Updated: February 18, 10:52 AM ET
Blake Griffin, Tulsa mourn teammate
Blake Griffin was coming off a solid win, heading into his first All-Star Weekend, but all he could do was sob.
After Wednesday night's Clippers win over the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, Griffin had his head in his hands in the locker room after receiving a phone call that a friend from home had died.
That friend was Wilson Holloway, his high school teammate and Tulsa football player who died from complications of Hodgkin's lymphoma on Wednesday.
Holloway, who was profiled by ESPN.com in 2008, had been battling cancer since 2008.
In an interview with ESPN's Colleen Dominguez, Griffin said he planned to see Holloway on Tuesday when the Clippers play in Oklahoma City, and he had set aside a ticket for him.
Clippers spokesperson Rob Raichlen told ESPNLosAngeles.com Griffin's plans for All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles will not change. He is scheduled to participate in the Rookie Challenge Friday, the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
"It was hard for me to believe because in my mind it was like 'OK, so when he gets better it's going to be all right,'" Griffin said of his friend. "You never think that's going to happen to you or somebody you know or somebody that's that close to you that's your age."
From the size of Holloway's smile, it was sometimes difficult to ascertain that he was fighting for his life.
Almost three years ago, Holloway received a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma, but he didn't let it keep him from playing college football at Tulsa and, those who knew him say, it didn't affect his positive outlook on life. They chose to remember that smile on Thursday, the day after he died in Oklahoma City at age 22.
"He definitely faced some adversity, but yet he always lived life the way that he chose, which was to be upbeat, be positive," said University of Central Oklahoma football coach Tracy Holland, who was Holloway's prep coach at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond. "He was a fierce and loyal friend."
After an honor-filled high school career, Holloway, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive tackle from Edmond, signed with Tulsa in 2007. He redshirted that fall and was running during Tulsa's offseason workouts the following February when he noticed he was struggling and short of breath.
Herb Hand, then Tulsa's co-offensive coordinator, suggested that Holloway seek medical attention, and on March 13, Holloway learned he had a softball-sized tumor in his chest.
Holloway continued working out with the Golden Hurricane, even as he endured chemotherapy treatments. By August, he was declared cancer-free and played in six games before the cancer returned that October. Another round of chemotherapy caused Holloway to lose his hair, and his fellow linemen and quarterback David Johnson shaved their heads in solidarity.
Holloway remained a member of Tulsa's football team throughout his battle with cancer. He was listed in the 2009 and 2010 media guides, although he didn't play in either season. The university held a moment of silence for Holloway on Wednesday night before a home basketball game against East Carolina.
"In his four years at the University of Tulsa, Wilson's smile was contagious to those who ever met him," Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. "He fought the disease with a tireless and enthusiastic spirit. We'll never forget Wilson's own words -- 'I don't take things for granted any more. There are days I wish I could go out and do the drills everyone hates to do.' Wilson Holloway has touched all of our hearts with his passion for living."
Griffin had been a big supporter of Holloway's battle. When Holloway was nominated for the 2010 Rare Disease Champion award a year ago, Griffin tweeted to his 50,000-plus followers: "My boy @Wilson Holloway is up 4 The Rare Disease Champion Award and he needs ur vote."
"He was just one of those guys that was so positive," Griffin said. "I never heard him complain once."
In January 2009, Holloway won the Courage Award from the Football Writers Association of America after beating Hodgkin's lymphoma twice in the 10 months before that.
"I'm so optimistic and so upbeat, I never really let it get me down. My whole mentality on it is if I let it get to me, then it's winning," Holloway said after receiving the award.
"I just kind of went about my life and did everything I wanted to do, and didn't let it slow me down."
Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham, who coached Holloway at Tulsa, called him "one of the special ones who will always stay with me. What an example he was to his teammates. Here was this guy facing cancer and he whipped it twice. His spirit never dropped."
Holloway and Griffin both attended Oklahoma Christian High School, where Holloway played football and basketball. After the Saints won their fourth straight basketball title in March 2007, Griffin, who had 22 points and seven rebounds in the championship game, credited his teammates. One of those was Holloway, who added 14 points and nine rebounds.
"A lot of teams overlooked our other players," Griffin said, according to the Tulsa World. "Those teams think I'm our only guy. But they find out that we have five guys who can score instead of just one."
Holloway's funeral is scheduled for Monday afternoon at Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
"He was so upbeat and loved life so much," Holland said. "All of his friends will have all kinds of funny stories and great stories to tell about him."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.