When the NCAA Tournament's South Regional opens play today in New Orleans, the Baylor University men's basketball team's No. 3 seed will be the program's best to date.
Meanwhile, Miller County native Valorie Brabazon wishes the Bears well -- even if she's still upset at the program.
"I have harsh feelings about Baylor," she said of the Bears, who face Sam Houston State in the first round at 3 p.m. today on CBS. "But I can't put anything on these young kids. They're doing good. I can't wish bad luck on them."
Brabazon's harsh feelings toward the school, however, could be considered justified since her son -- former Bears player Patrick Dennehy -- was shot to death by teammate Carlton Dotson in 2003, complete with a fallout that unjustly painted Dennehy in a negative light.
The Brabazon family not only experienced grief, it also felt betrayal by then-coach Dave Bliss after the NCAA looked into allegations that Bliss gave Dennehy and another player scholarship money above what was allowed. Then Bliss, after Dennehy's death, reportedly ordered his players and an assistant to lie that Dennehy earned that scholarship money instead by dealing drugs.
The day after Dennehy's funeral -- according to taped conversations turned over to authorities -- Bliss admitted giving that money to Dennehy and resigned, continuing the program's tailspin. That, along with other penalties, helped lead to a school-imposed postseason ban for 2003-04 and the release of signees such as John Lucas III, who helped lead Oklahoma State to that season's Final Four. Reduced scholarships the next two seasons after that left the Bears a shell of their former selves.
Dotson pleaded guilty to Dennehy's murder June 5, 2005, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Brabazon, who was born and raised in Colquitt, has lived mostly on the West Coast since graduating from Miller County High School in 1979. These days, she works in the Seattle area and granted an interview request from The Herald on Wednesday to talk about Dennehy's memory.
"Oh, he was a momma's boy," she laughed when asked what she remembers most about her
son. "He was very smart and intelligent. He was also very
easy-going and very caring of other people. He always saw the good in people."
Knowing that, Bliss' lie to the NCAA left her stunned.
And the shock still hasn't worn off seven years later.
"Coach Bliss was totally out of line by saying that," she said. "I will never forgive him, not ever! He was totally wrong for putting that label on my son. My son was not like that. The only forgiveness he will ever get is from God."
Brabazon then added: "My son never, ever did drugs. As far as I know, he never did drugs. I didn't bring him up like that. I raised him to keep his head in the books. He was planning on going to the NBA, and that's where he was headed."
Dennehy, a 6-foot-10 forward, originally signed with New Mexico, where he was named the team's Most Improved Player after his freshman year. Averaging almost 11 points and eight rebounds his sophomore year with the Lobos, Dennehy then moved to Baylor and sat out the 2002-03 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
During that time, Dennehy struck up a friendship with Dotson, who reportedly killed him in the summer of 2003 while they went to shoot targets with guns they had recently bought.
"We will never recover from it -- it will always run through our minds," said Colquitt resident Annie Collins, who is Valorie's mother and Dennehy's grandmother. "I will always wonder what happened. What was it between he and his friend? Well, I think (Carlton) was his friend. Well, if he killed him, he certainly didn't seem like much of a friend."
That perceived oversight by the college is what makes it hard for Brabazon to forgive Baylor.
"I can't say I do forgive them," Brabazon said. "They should have had their eyes on the players more, they should have done that. If they did that, maybe things would have been different."
Brabazon said she also finds difficulty in trying to forgive Dotson.
"I think about this all the time, and I've wanted to forgive him, but he took my baby away," she said. "My son would be doing great things if he was here."
Dennehy, though, is not here. And while working many miles away from Baylor in Washington, Brabazon continues to carry her son's memory however she can.
"His memory will live on as the greatest kid ever," she said. "I looked up to him and he looked up to me. I know, even now, he looks down on me always. He will always be my baby. If he was here, I would be in the bleachers yelling his name."