Jonathan Harrell left the Aurora Christian locker room Monday with the third-place trophy from the Plano Christmas Tournament in one hand and his gym bag in the other.
Inside that gym bag was a reminder of the pain he's been through the last few days -- and also some examples of how he's making it through.
The Eagles earned third place at Plano for the second straight year, beating Burlington Central 63-56. Aurora Christian took the lead midway through the first quarter and never relinquished it.
Harrell, a senior and four-year varsity player, is the youngest of eight children who have all attended Aurora Christian.
His sister Janella and brother Jarred came to watch Harrell play Friday at the Plano tourney. On their way home they were involved in a head-on car accident on Rt. 30 in Oswego that left Janella, 24, in intensive care and killed 21-year-old Jarred.
As he spoke after Monday's game, Jonathan Harrell opened that gym bag and showed a card signed by every Ottawa player, Aurora Christian's opponent Saturday night in the first game Harrell played after his brother's death.
Each Ottawa player signed a personal note, long enough there wasn't room for all the messages on the card, and they included more notes on another piece of paper. Ottawa also included a copy of a newspaper article about Harrell in the card. Harrell also had a card from Newark's team with more personal notes and a monetary gift.
That is the type of support that Harrell has found the past few days both from the people he knows at Aurora Christian and through basketball, and also from total strangers.
"It's a blessing to know they know basketball is just a sport, there's bigger things in life," Harrell said of the Ottawa and Newark gestures. "It's a blessing to have people who don't even know you and they still feel for you and they are compassionate and they are sympathetic. They may not know where you are coming from but they still feel you are hurting. They may not know how much you are hurting but they still know you are hurting and they support you. That's nice."
Harrell said Monday that his sister is doing better. She has a concussion and broken fibula but is expected to make a full recovery.
Harrell played Saturday almost exactly 24 hours after the accident and led his team with 15 points. He scored 9 more in Monday's win with 5 rebounds.
He said he thought about not playing before taking his mother's advice.
"She knows basketball is my love," Harrell said. "(Eagles) Coach Mac (Pat McNamara) can tell you that ever since he's known me since like 7th grade, I've been in a gym shooting, 6 in the morning, after school, I always found a way to get in the gym Saturdays and Sundays at our school. My mom knew it (playing) would be a good way to be courageous and get my mind off things for a little bit and come to peace with things."
Zach Singer led Aurora Christian (9-6) with 19 points Monday.
"Jon is being super strong right now," Singer said. "He's still being a very good leader and captain for our team. We're comforting him as best as we can and being like brothers to him right now."
Burlington Central (9-4) led briefly early in the game until RD Lutze hit his third 3-pointer of the first quarter to put the Eagles ahead to stay, 14-11.
Rockets senior Jacob Schutta drained a 3-pointer to close both the first half and third quarter, keeping Burlington Central within 31-26 at halftime and 51-39 after three.
The Rockets got as close as 56-49 with 2:45 left in the fourth on a putback bucket from Reed Hunnicutt. Burlington missed a 3 that could have made it a 4-point game, and Lutze found Steve Burht for a lay-in after the Eagles ran about 50 seconds off the clock to regain control.
"We're happy with third, we came out and played hard, played as a team and got the good passes and easy looks at the hoop," Singer said. "We were a little looser, not as emotional (as Saturday)."
Hunnicutt led the Rockets with 20 points and Brett Rau added 10.
"I thought we had a little lull there in the middle of the third quarter," Rockets coach Brett Porto said. "Anytime you come into a tournament this tough and to go 2-2 especially on the winner's side isn't bad at all. We're right there with the teams we want to be with. If we can get better from this we will be one of the teams close to 20 wins and competing for a regional."
Burht came off the bench for 13 points to join Singer and Lutze (11 points) in double figures.
"I thought we really got after it," McNamara said. "I thought our guys did a good job. Burht did a nice job off the bench. Just a good overall game."
Harrell and Lutze both made the all-tournament team. Harrell said he is finding strength during this difficult time from his school and his faith.
"ACS is like a second home," Harrell said. "It's nice to have a great family and a God I know is all powerful. I'm just blessed with great people around me and my God Jesus Christ."