Chris Small always came alive on a basketball court.
Whether it was sinking jump shots for Manual Arts High, holding the state championship trophy for Los Angeles City College or shouting instructions to Occidental players, he felt at home in a gymnasium. His life was built around the game.
"He was the ultimate gym rat," Occidental men's basketball Coach Brian Newhall said. "You could always see him in a gymnasium. On Saturdays, he would coach 8-year-olds. On Sundays, he was playing in a league up here."
It is a cruel irony. The very place Small seemed so alive would be where he would spend the final moments of his young life.
On March 6, Small, 31, was working out with his longtime friend, Sandy Brown, late in the evening in Occidental's Rush Gym. Small had been an assistant to Newhall the last three seasons.
They were about to leave the gym when Small collapsed. Brown immediately called paramedics and Small was rushed to Glendale Adventist Medical Center in full cardiac arrest.
Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and Small died. Scott Carrier, spokesman for the L.A. County coroner's office, said Monday that no cause of death has been determined and full autopsy results won't be known for five or six more weeks.
Newhall said Small had a fainting episode about three months ago and went to the hospital but nothing irregular was found.
Occidental is honoring Small with a memorial service Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The school has also paid tribute with a small shrine of flowers and pictures at center court in the gymnasium.
Those who knew him still can't believe he's gone.
"He worked out all the time," Occidental sophomore Finn Rebassoo said. "He was the picture of health."
Reggie Morris, a veteran coach in the Los Angeles area, coached Small on state championship teams in the late 1980s at Manual Arts and at L.A. City.
Last week was one of mixed emotions for Morris. He found out about Small days before leading L.A. Southwest College to the state title.
"It's a bittersweet time for me, obviously," he said. "Last Tuesday, a couple of my former players came to the gym in the evening. I thought they were coming to congratulate me and encourage us but they told me that Chris had died.
"He was not only just a great player, but a really good guy. Real nice, polite, considerate of others but a fierce competitor on the court."
Basketball was at the core of Small's life. After his playing days at New Mexico State and Cal State San Bernardino ended, he spent his time training some of the inner-city's best high school and college players.
A few years ago, Newhall helped get Small a coaching position at Pasadena Poly High. Coaching became a new passion.
"I really believe that, in a few years, he would have coached somewhere at the Division I level," Newhall said.
At the time of his death, Small also was working on his bachelor's degree at Cal State L.A.
"He really brought out the best in people," Rebassoo said. "When I was down about something, maybe relationships or just life in general, he would call me in my room and we'd talk. He was young and he could relate to all the players.
"He just had a lot of impact in people's lives. We lost a great human being."
Junior forward Burgundie Porter looks at the videotape and still can't believe she sent the Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team into pandemonium.
Porter's layup with one second remaining Saturday night gave the Broncos a 63-62 victory over Seattle Pacific and ensured their first appearance in the NCAA Division II final eight since 1993--the first in the years after the late Coach Darlene May retired.
"It was like a blur," Porter said. "It seemed like the clock was in slow motion.
"I've watched it about 10 times on video and I still say to myself, 'Did I do that?' "
Pomona (24-3) will play Pace University of Pleasantville, N.Y., on March 21 in the national quarterfinals at Rochester, Minn.
Cal State L.A. junior Louise Ayetotche won the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.93 seconds at the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships on Saturday in Boston. . . . Kevin Halamicek threw a one-hit shutout in Cal State Dominguez Hills' 1-0 victory Friday over Chico State.
The Pepperdine women's golf team set school records for fewest strokes in a round, 283, and lowest score in a 54-hole tournament, 870, in taking second place at the San Jose Spartan Invitational last week in Salinas.
With a five-under-par score of 211, sophomore Lindsey Wright took second behind medalist Kelli Kamimura of Washington as the Waves finished a stroke behind New Mexico State.