HESSTON — Devin Lloyd is a college basketball star and a pilot. Both accomplishments would bear mentioning on their own.
On Hesston College's basketball team, he averages 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists. The Larks are 17-11 with one game remaining before the Region VI Division II playoffs. The 5-foot-10 sophomore guard from Kansas City, Mo., will be able to pick between several four-year schools once his season is over.
In his school's aviation program, he has already obtained his private pilot's license and is closing in on obtaining his instrument rating, which means he can fly without being able to see his surroundings. This is handy. Soon, he will try for his commercial pilot's license, which means he can get paid to fly people places. This is also handy.
It is amazing what he has accomplished at the age of 19.
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What's even more amazing is what he had to overcome to get here.
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"Police have identified a Hogan Prep Academy student as the victim in a fatal weekend shooting.
"Police said junior Darreon Morgan was driving with three friends on Interstate 70 early Saturday morning after a basketball game when someone shot into their car, killing Murray and wounding his friends.
"A family friend said Murray planned to go to college and would have celebrated his 18th birthday in less than two weeks."
—KCTV, March 7, 2009
Morgan and Lloyd were best friends and teammates at Kansas City (Mo.) Hogan Prep. Morgan's father worked two jobs and would drop him off at the Lloyd's house before dawn. He would slip into an extra bed in Lloyd's room and grab a few more hours of sleep before school, then eat breakfast with the family.
Both boys wanted to go to college, although it was Morgan who always talked about playing basketball after high school. Lloyd really just wanted to fly. The college didn't matter as long as it had an aviation program. All he'd ever wanted to do, since he was a little boy, was be a pilot. A program geared to expose inner-city kids to careers in aviation had allowed him to get up in a plane by himself the year before.
Toward the end of their senior season, Morgan brought Lloyd a flier advertising a high school basketball showcase in Wichita right after the season. They were organized pickup games, sure, but they were games in front of a lot of college coaches.
"He told me we had to go," Lloyd said. "He was way more excited about it than I was. I thought it might be kind of a waste of time but he didn't want to go alone. So he made me promise to go with him. I agreed because he always encouraged me so much. Flying, basketball, school... he was always the one who was in my ear telling me I could do it."
Not more than a month later, Morgan was murdered.
"Darreon called up to the house that night and Devin and another of our sons, Deron, were going to meet him at a party," said Lloyd's father, Rodney. "And for some reason, they decided not to go. After he died, it was hard on everybody... you don't know what to say, even. You just want the kids to be OK, but you don't know if they ever will. I suppose you never know how things are going to turn out, I guess. Those were some really rough times."
Things turned out the way they do sometimes in south Kansas City, Mo.
A boy is murdered.
No one is ever arrested.
Everyone left deals with the wreckage.
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Lloyd kept his promise to Morgan and went to the showcase in Wichita.
That was where he met Hesston coach Dustin Galyon.
"I was sitting up there and saw this kid, this guard, just dunking on people," Galyon said. "I mean he's just attacking the rim every time he gets a shot. And he's super-quick and he's playing defense... just doing it all. So of course I assumed he was signed somewhere. Turns out he wasn't. And then when I asked him what he wanted to major in... well, do you believe in fate?"
Lloyd told his father he thought it was too good to be true. An aviation program and basketball?
A couple of weeks later Galyon went to Kansas City and Lloyd signed his scholarship in the Hogan Prep library.
"I don't hesitate to say he's the very best we've ever had play here, period," Galyon said. "I don't hesitate to say he's the greatest athlete we've ever had on campus, period.
"He is mild mannered and easy to get along with, definitely. A joy to coach and a joy to be around. But when he gets on the floor there's a change... he turns into a beast. Hates to lose. Hates the idea of failure."
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Soon, Lloyd will take a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, leave Newton Municipal Airport and head out on a five- or six-hour solo flight with three stops and at least one stretch of 250 straight nautical miles, a requirement of any pilot trying to obtain a commercial license.
He will push his tiny, four-seat airplane high into the air and just... go. Doesn't matter which direction. The sky is a big place.
"To me, it doesn't matter what size of the plane or what I'm doing as long as I'm a pilot," Lloyd said. "As long as I'm flying, I'm happy. It's that peace you get up there on your own, where it's stress-free, where it's quiet... that's what I like the best."
And up there, more often than not, he thinks about his best friend.
"I like to think Darreon would be proud of me," Lloyd said. "He knew how much flying meant to me because I was always talking about it, of course. He wanted to go up... we just never had that opportunity."