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Playing Through The Pain
GRANT WAHL
January 29, 2007
Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson, reeling from the recent deaths of his girlfriend and then of his brother, has found solace in his god and in his game
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January 29, 2007

Playing Through The Pain

Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson, reeling from the recent deaths of his girlfriend and then of his brother, has found solace in his god and in his game

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At first glance, the MySpace page of Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson looks a lot like that of any other college student. There are loads of photographs, a song playing in the background and goofy, half-intelligible messages from friends. But take a closer look. Read the preamble across the top of Davidson's page: "November has been a rough month for me...." Listen to the song, Ky-Mani Marley's mournful I Pray. And watch the continuously looping photo montages, digital elegies to two fallen pillors of Davidson's life.

One shows pictures of a willowy young woman framed by electronic roses, floating hearts and a simple farewell: Live in the sky ... Nikki, love u 4ever, RIP. Just below that, another series of photos presents a young man with piercing eyes, a goatee and dreadlocks beneath another postscript: RIP BIG BRA.

On Nov. 7, just three nights before the start of a senior season that Davidson, one of the nation's leading big men, hoped would lead him to the Final Four and the NBA, his brother, Dewayne Watkins, was shot in the neck by an unknown assailant. Four days later Davidson and his girlfriend, Nikki Murphy, visited Watkins at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. That night, as they returned to Tuscaloosa, Nikki, who was driving Davidson's SUV, lost control as she swerved to avoid another car on Interstate 20. The vehicle flipped several times before landing on its roof.

Davidson, who says he was wearing his seatbelt, walked away unharmed, but Murphy was thrown from the vehicle and died several hours later--in the same hospital where Watkins would die on Dec. 20. Davidson is still coming to terms with the two tragedies. "I have my tough moments, like right before we go on the court, but I'm able to move it to the side until later," he says. "The times I break down are when I'm alone, just sitting at home in front of the computer."

Sitting and staring at his MySpace page.

Madonna Davidson can't help it. She's a loud, proud mom, and this is a big game. So she cheers when her son goes up strong against LSU's Glen (Big Baby) Davis, cheers again when Jermareo lofts an old-school skyhook, and cheers loudest when then No. 14 Alabama seals a 71--61 win. There's nothing unusual about her fervor, except for where it's being displayed. She's not sitting in the parents' section; she's standing in the second row of the student section, among the craziest of the Crimson Tide crazies. "Jermareo's heart is hurting, but I'm so proud of him," Madonna says. "I tell him, 'You've got to use Nikki and Dewayne's love for basketball as a driver because that is what they would want you to do. You've got to keep striving. You've got a story to tell, a story to uplift somebody.'"

Some of Jermareo's passion for the game came from Dewayne, who was five years his senior and a point guard in high school. Growing up in the Capitol View neighborhood of Atlanta, the boys would play ball nonstop on the goal Madonna had set up in the backyard. "I have thousands of memories [of my brother]," says Davidson, smiling. "The last Thanksgiving that I went home, he cooked for me and [teammate] Alonzo Gee." Turkey, collard greens, mac and cheese; it was a perfect holiday spread from the guy who called his younger brother Jay-O. "Whenever he came into the gym, I knew he was there," says Davidson. "That always got me hyped."

On Nov. 7 Davidson got a call from a family friend: Dewayne had been shot in an Atlanta suburb. The first person Davidson contacted was Nikki, whom he had met in a health class when they were freshmen. A student athletic trainer for the women's team, Nikki hoped to work in the NBA or WNBA one day. She more than anyone encouraged Davidson to be serious about school. "She said we couldn't have a future unless I graduated," he says. They kept their relationship secret because her job prohibited her from dating athletes, so they called each other cousins. ("What's up, cuz?" he'd say in front of her friends. "You calling Grandma tonight?") Only recently had they started using the terms boyfriend and girlfriend, and every Thursday they would go bowling together.

"My brother's been shot," he told her that night. "Can you ride with me to Atlanta?"

"I'm already packing," she replied.

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