Bejarano remembers his father on the court
Daniel Bejarano was at the National Basketball Players Association camp in June when he heard the news.
There was a message from his uncle: "Give me a call. It's really important."
Then he got called into an office at the camp, where a psychiatrist was waiting for him. Bejarano doesn't remember doing anything until the psychiatrist handed him a phone with his mother on the line. She told her son that his biological father, the one he was just starting to get close to, had been murdered in an apparent home invasion in Phoenix.
Bejarano sat there quietly for a minute, unable to process what he had just been told.
Then he started crying.
Basketball was the thing that united Bejarano and his father, Damion Gosa. Gosa was a star prep player at Carl Hayden (Phoenix), and now Bejarano is a Texas-bound rising senior swingman at North (Phoenix). Bejarano is rated the nation's No. 64 player in the ESPNU 100. Although he is a guard and his father was a big man, it was impossible for family members not to see the connection -- from the way they ran the floor to the way they smiled.
Growing up, Bejarano knew his father but had little contact with him. Instead, he lived with his mother, Barbara Butler, and four siblings. By the time Bejarano entered high school, Gosa began to reach out. Initially, Bejarano wasn't interested. He'd become a big-time basketball player by that point and thought that was the only reason his father was coming around.
"I told him I didn't want him in my life," Bejarano says.
Gosa wouldn't take no for an answer. He kept calling, text messaging and occasionally stopping by. Eventually, he proved his true intentions.
"As time went by, I felt differently," Bejarano says. "We finally made a connection."
The messages they exchanged started off being about basketball but over time evolved to "I love you" and "We should hang out soon."
Bejarano remembers texting his dad shortly before heading off to the University of Virginia for the NBPA camp.
On the plane ride back to Phoenix after receiving the news of his father's death, Bejarano did his best to drown out the rest of the world. He slipped on his headphones and kept his head down throughout the long flight.
The day after his father's funeral, he was on another long flight, this time to Boston for the Paul Pierce Skills Academy. It wasn't easy, but Bejarano knew that's what his dad would have wanted.
"I knew my mom and dad still wanted me to go, so that's where I got the strength from," he says.
After three days in Massachusetts, Bejarano made his way to Ohio for this week's LeBron James Skills Academy. He felt it was going to be a good experience from the moment he was handed his uniform -- No. 32, the same number his dad wore. Unfortunately, Bejarano turned his ankle Sunday night and wasn't able to play Monday.
It's frustrating not to be able to play now, forced to sit on the sidelines while his teammates run with LeBron. A month ago, Bejarano would have texted his father seeking some encouraging words. He now finds himself fighting the urge to do so.
"I feel like texting him at times, but I know I won't get a response back," he says.
Bejarano admits he feels cheated at times. He sees other kids with their fathers and wishes that could be he and his dad. More than anything, Bejarano wishes he and his father had reconciled earlier. Even though there's nothing he could have done, Bejarano wonders how things would have been different if he had been closer to his father.
"Sometimes I feel like I had a part in this," Bejarano says. "Maybe if we had that father-son relationship, he wouldn't have been there. Maybe we would have been at the movies or something."
But because basketball is the thing that helped bring them together, it only makes sense that it will continue to unite them in the aftermath of Gosa's death. Bejarano will play with a heavy heart this summer as he thinks about his father and the lost opportunity at a long, meaningful relationship. But make no mistake: He will play.
"Basketball is the thing I love to do, so I have to do it for myself and my dad," he says.
Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.
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