A JJ Memory: By Aaron Uhlenberg


I met JJ as an 8th grader at Guy B. Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina - JJ was a grade below me. As a quiet, introverted individual, I rarely spoke or interacted with anybody during the school hours. My days consisted of darting to class, taking notes, turning in my assignments, listening to lectures, then springing to the next class. I remember how every time I passed JJ in the hallway we shared a mutual, "what's up man" with a universal nod to couple the greeting. We never passed each other without at least saying hello which at the time was rare for me to do. I thought JJ reminded me of myself in some ways in that he seemed quite, dedicated and focused on his tasks - and I always respected him for that.


When I was elected captain of the Varsity basketball team, I was immediately put into a position where my shyness conflicted with the responsibilities of the "Captain's role" - as it required more interaction than I was comfortable with at the time. Ironically, because they were the younger less-experienced team, much of my learning and growth as Captain came from the JV squad. JJ was elected captain of the JV team. My younger brother also played for the JV team so my mother recorded all of the games she attended. I never told my brother this, but after watching my games I would pop in another VHS and watch the JV team play because I was so impressed with their style, technical skills and poise. I remember in practice how JJ was not only an athlete, fundamentally sound and always hustling, but how strong his basketball IQ was. The JV team had many good players, who all possessed strengths and weaknesses, but JJ seemed so solid in his decision making - for example, he would rarely turn the ball over and made the highest percentage passes. As a point guard, whose main role was running the offense getting players involved and not turning the ball over, this attribute of JJ's always and still to this day impresses me. I remember joking with him one day that him and a couple other players on the JV team need to suit up with us to help us out; our Varsity team was not nearly as talented. The JV team ended up winning their league and tournament that year and also got new uniforms, much to the chagrin of the Varsity players who still wore shorts that were from the mid 70's probably - in other words, very short and tight!


The day I found out JJ passed away it was two years later and our high school Varsity and JV team had a basketball game. Emotions were so high and as kids, not knowing how to contain or express these emotions; a couple fights broke out on the bus. Two players on the team actually threw punches at one another due to the emotions everyone was experiencing. After everybody calmed down the teams dedicated the season to JJ and the JV team went out and played one of the best, hardest games I have witnessed in any organized athletic outing. They went into triple overtime and pulled off the victory. I was proud of the JV team, but more proud of the affect JJ had over everyone to this point. His presence was reflected not just in games or in practice, but off the court as a model person and strong-willed individual. JJ meant the world to his family, friends and teammates/friends.


I'll never forget being that shy kid who never talked to anyone and kept to himself for the majority of school. I'll also never forget how JJ and I would always pass by the halls and always share that mutual "What's up man".

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