Citadel coach Duggar Baucom calls it the “basketball bubble,” the whirl of practice, games and travel that college teams get caught up in at this time of year.
At Mercer University, and to a far lesser extent The Citadel, real life punctured that bubble in the most tragic way this week.
The Mercer Bears, The Citadel’s opponent in a 4:30 p.m. game Saturday, are mourning the death of one of their own, graduate-student player Jibri Bryan. Bryan, 23, was shot and killed Tuesday in downtown Macon, Ga. One suspect has been arrested and Georgia police are searching for a second suspect in the killing.
Funeral services are set for next Tuesday in Savannah, Ga., for Bryan, who is survived by a 2-year-old son. Bryan’s teammates, including sophomores Demetre Rivers of Stratford High School and Tyre Moore of Academic Magnet, took part in a candlelight vigil on Wednesday night.
After some internal debate, Mercer officials decided to go ahead with Saturday’s game. It’s sure to be an emotional scene at Hawkins Arena when the Bulldogs and Bears take the floor for the first game since Bryan’s death.
Baucom often calls Mercer coach Bob Hoffman the best coach in the Southern Conference, and has texted his friend this week.
“He’s a guy I really respect in this league, and I certainly consider him a friend,” Baucom said. “We text and talk during the season a lot, and I just hate this for him and his kids.
“Every day after practice this week, we’ve been talking about mortality and how there are many things in life bigger than basketball. We all at times think we’re invincible, but life is so fragile. We talk about that a lot when we leave for holidays or breaks; our goal is we want everyone back in this circle.”
Bryan, a 6-4 guard who battled injury throughout his six-year career, did not play in Mercer’s 91-80 win at The Citadel in January. But Baucom’s VMI teams did face Bryan.
“He was a good player who was a vital part of their team when we played them,” he said. “I know he fought through a lot of injuries, and the way he persevered says a lot about his character.
“It’s just tragic. I know Bob is a real faith-based guy, and this is tearing him apart. He demands a lot of his kids, but they love him. Their is a tightness to their program that you can see by the way they play and carry themselves. It’s just tragic.”
The Citadel (10-13, 3-7) at Mercer (17-6, 7-3)
WHEN: 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hawkins Arena, Macon, Ga.
NOTES: The Bulldogs have lost three of four and are coming off a 125-85 trouncing at Chattanooga on Monday night ... The Bulldogs are 3-8 in true road games this season, including a 1-3 mark in SoCon play ... That lone win was by 92-91 at Western Carolina ... Guards Warren Sledge (hand) and Quayson Williams (ankle) missed the Chattanooga game, but should be available against Mercer ... The Bulldogs lost to Mercer, 91-80, on Jan. 9 at McAlister Field House ... Freshman Connor Schroeder led the Bulldogs in that game with 14 points ... Mercer’s Stephon Jelks had a monster game that day with 24 points and 17 rebounds, and Stratford High School product Demetre Rivers scored 17 points ... Mercer is dealing with the death this week of grad-student player Jibri Bryan, who was shot and killed last Tuesday ... The Citadel is at home against Samford on Monday.