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USC Sports

Kyle Sturdivant leans on his USC basketball family as he grieves for his father

USC guard Kyle Sturdivant drives to the basket against Florida Gulf Coast during a nonconference game Dec. 29, 2019, at Galen Center.
USC guard Kyle Sturdivant drives to the basket against Florida Gulf Coast during a nonconference game Dec. 29, 2019, at Galen Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Gary Sturdivant had swag. Ask anyone around Norcross, Ga., and they would tell you the same. Gary oozed confidence. He could connect with anyone. He had that aura about him, naturally drawing those around into his orbit — none more so than his son, Kyle.

“He was the best father I could ever ask for,” USC’s freshman point guard says.

Gary reserved as much of that swag as possible for Kyle. Father and son did everything together. They listened to their favorite artist, Jay-Z, together. They watched movies together. Even did the menial, everyday stuff together. It was Gary who first put a ball in Kyle’s hands and taught him he was capable of anything on a basketball court.

Last month, when the devastating news of Gary’s tragic death in an accident at 49 was delivered in the middle of USC’s road trip to Arizona, Kyle knew he needed to be back on the court. It was the only place he could make sense of it. Even as grief consumed him, he refused to miss the Trojans’ next game. It was what his father would’ve wanted, he told himself.

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So Kyle suited up against Arizona State, the day after the worst phone call of his life. He played six minutes, the last few seconds of which left him under the basket at the end of the first half trying desperately to put away a two-footer. Giving everything he could, he still missed twice.

A seven-game win streak and a first-place standing has brought a lot of attention to UCLA’s basketball team. But the Bruins’ focus on their game against USC on Saturday.

“I want to believe that we sacrifice for the people we love,” Kyle said Thursday. “My dad, he put too much time in for me to be selfish, even though I was going through pain about him. He was still with me in spirit. He gave me the knowledge to play in that game. He gave me what I need to make it out here.”

The next day, Kyle boarded a flight for Georgia. He spent the next three weeks processing the grief, navigating through in a virtual fog.

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He mourned with family and friends, and many told him how they saw his father in him — same mannerisms, same personality, same unimpeachable swag.

Kyle followed USC from afar, working out when he could as the Trojans won four of six heading into their regular-season finale Saturday against UCLA. He has tried his best to focus only on what was in front of him, hoping to manage his sorrow.

“Day by day, minute by minute, second by second,” Kyle said.

UCLA’s turnaround seems so stark only because of its poor start. USC has more to lose when the teams meet Saturday.

Last Sunday, as he returned to the team he’d left three weeks earlier, there was a sliver of normalcy.

“It was good to be surrounded,” said Kyle, who has averaged 2.0 points and 8.3 minutes a game. “This is my family away from family. It was good to be back, laugh with them, joke with them.”

And teammates were reminded of the freshman’s strength.

“That Arizona State game, the fact that he played in that game, just goes to show you what kind of guy he is,” senior forward Nick Rakocevic said. “He’s just a strong, strong kid. This is just going to be a part of his story.”

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That story continues Saturday, and his father always will be part of it.

“I just have to dedicate my life to him because he dedicated his life to me,” Kyle said. “I’m going to do my best to do that, and then, the chips will fall as they may.”

Etc.

USC is expecting a sellout at Galen Center for its regular-season finale against UCLA. The Trojans haven’t sold out a game at their home arena since facing their crosstown rival at the end of the 2017-18 season. USC lost that game, 83-72.


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