Towson Tiger freshman Jerome Hairston has had a lot thrown at him this year. He has started all but one game at point guard for a team coming off a 1-31 record. He joined a team that returned only three scholarship players from last year. The starting lineup consists of five players who had never played a regular season game together before this year.
Yet despite all that, the 6’2” freshman has been counted on to put all the pieces together, as the Tigers looked to improve vastly on last year’s record. Coach Pat Skerry has stuck with Hairston the entire season, while he has learned the point guard position at the college level. He might not have as many assists and may have more turnovers than a coach would like from the point guard. However, he has provided a spark on both offense and defense at key times during the season.
However, none of those obstacles compare with what Hairston faced this week. He found out on Wednesday that his best friend from High School passed away after collapsing on the court during a game in North Carolina. Josh Level of New Garden Friends collapsed during the final minutes of Tuesday night’s game at Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem. He later died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Hairston spoke about his relationship with Level following Saturday’s 72-71 home win over Drexel. “He was a real close friend. He was my teammate last year. We went to a boarding school, so we lived together. We got a little closer than you would get at an average high school. He was a great kid, a great player and one of the top prospects in his class. He would say stuff like, ‘It’s a privilege to play this game, not everybody can do it’ he was a very appreciative person.”
Hairston turned those emotions into a positive on the court right from the start, he scored Towson’s first four points of the game in less than 1-minute by hitting a jump shot on the first possession and stealing a pass and taking it the length of the court for a layup. Hairston scored 14 of his career his 20 points in the first half. Hairston’s 6-6 shooting from the field helped stake the Tigers to an 8-point halftime advantage. The Tigers held off a second half Drexel comeback. A key play down the stretch was a steal by Hairston with 11 seconds to go and Drexel trailing only by a point and possession of the ball in Damion Lee’s hand. Hairston stepped in the passing lane, made the steal and took off down court before he was fouled with 09 seconds to go. Hairston made one of the two free throws, and Towson hung on for the victory when Kazimbe Abif of Drexel only hit one of two free throws with 02 seconds left.
The 20 point three steal performance earned Hairston Rookie Of The Week honors in the Colonial Athletic Association for the fourth time this year. Towson only has two games remaining this season, and one thing that’s certain, is the approach Hairston will take into those final two games. “From here on out, I’m trying to play for him and appreciate every minute I get on that floor, because tomorrows not promised” he said as he recounted his memory of his friend and teammate.