TERRELL (TERRAY) ROGERS would have been proud last Friday night. His 17-year-old daughter, Tierra, was back on the basketball court for Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, the No. 1 girls' team in the nation. Had he been there, Terray would have been impossible to miss. A big man with a bigger voice, he ruled the front row of the bleachers, cheering the Irish, advising the refs and, always, offering the same encouragement to Tierra. "Take her!" Terray would shout when she got the ball on the wing. "Take her!" Sure, his enthusiasm rubbed some the wrong way, but no one doubted this: He loved that girl.
That's why he drove his 18-seat Chevy van around Bayview Hunters Point, the rough neighborhood where he grew up and later worked, recruiting people to come to her games. It's why he'd pull out a pen, smiling, when he saw someone he knew. "My girl is going to shoot 100 free throws at Gilman Playground," Terray would say. "Will you pledge 25 cents for each one she makes so she can travel with her AAU team?" And who could resist?
It's why he entrusted his old friend, a youth coach named Guy Hudson, to train Tierra when she showed promise, because Terray knew boxing, not basketball. It's why he and his wife, Dalonna, moved to Pacifica and made sure Tierra had the grades to attend Sacred Heart. It's why he scored floor seats at Golden State Warriors games when her favorite player, Allen Iverson, came to Oakland, and why father and daughter camped out at the mall at 4 a.m. so he could buy her the latest Jordans. And, of course, it's why he traveled to tournaments with her, whooping like a goateed cheerleader in a lineman's body. "Every time I looked over," says Tierra, "he'd be smiling at me."
He had reason to. A 5'9" junior, Tierra has a guard's skills, a forward's strength and a crossover that leaves opponents wobbly. With seven seconds left in last year's state championship and the Irish down three, Tierra hurtled the length of the floor, jigged left and kissed in an and-one layup, then sank the free throw to send the game to OT. After Sacred Heart went on to win, Terray nearly threw out his shoulder high-fiving his buddies in the stands.
Time was when Terray walked a darker path. A felony drug conviction in his teens. A year in jail for gun possession soon after Tierra was born. He knew he needed to change. He got a job as a painter for the city and, like his father before him, became a community activist. He cofounded Peacekeepers, an antiviolence group in Hunters Point, and took everyone's plight personally. When the jayvee coach at a rival school died, he helped set up a fund for the family. When some teammates of Tierra's younger brother, 11-year-old Terrell Jr., couldn't afford to travel to a national football tournament, Terray raised $4,000.
By last fall things were falling into place for Tierra, who was named MVP of the Nike Northwest Invitational. USC and UNC called, as did Texas and Cal. When USA Today put Sacred Heart atop its national rankings, Terray prepared breakfast in bed for Tierra to celebrate.
On the night of Jan. 12, as the Irish were cruising to another home win, Terray went outside with a friend for his customary halftime smoke. Moments later two men in hoods approached and opened fire on Terray; his friend was unharmed. Inside, the game continued—Tierra didn't learn the news until midway through the third quarter. She bolted out the gym door, but Hudson intercepted her and wrestled her from the scene. "She thought he was still alive," says Hudson. "I didn't want her to see it." More than two weeks later the police have no suspects, though they think the shooting was the result of a "personal beef."
How do you measure the impact of a life? Maybe it's by the 3,000 people who came to Terray's funeral on Jan. 22, so many that they overflowed into the church lobby. Or by the fund for the Rogers family swelling with donations, or by the talk of renaming Gilman Playground after Terray.
Or maybe it's that Tierra is playing again. At first she swore off basketball, believing that her 39-year-old father would still be alive if not for the game. But she knew that to fulfill her dreams—and Terray's—she had to do the very thing that reminds her most of him.
On a rainy night in San Jose last Friday, Tierra returned. She scored two early points and pulled down some rebounds, but it was too much. At halftime Sacred Heart emerged from the locker room. Tierra did not. The next morning she sat down with her mother. "The game doesn't seem like fun now," Tierra said. "But I know it will later on. It's what Dad would want."
So she keeps playing. Because she knows sometime soon that booming voice will return, even if only she can hear it. Take her, Tierra. Take her!
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Terray traveled to tournaments with her, whooping like a goateed cheerleader. "Every time I looked over," says Tierra, "he'd be smiling at me."
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER