Quincy Roberts can still hear his father's voice at each Harrisburg (Pa.) High game, yelling for him to go left. It's a voice that follows him all day and night. A comforting sound that will never leave him.
Karon Burton can see his father and stepfather up in the stands, laughing and back slapping, cupping their hands over their mouths so they could be heard over the crazy volume of another Chester (Pa.) basketball game. Just as quickly as he sees them there, in the blink of an eye, they're gone. But it's a comforting vision he carries with him every time he walks on a basketball court.
Roberts and Burton have a kindred bond that goes beyond basketball. Both lost their fathers' to tragic circumstances, yet Burton, a savvy 5-foot-9 senior guard, and Roberts, a 6-5 senior forward, use their losses as personal fuel to get through each day and as motivation on the court.
Last August, Roberts' father, Toby, committed suicide, baffling a community and leaving Quincy searching for answers. He knows he's the last person to have spoken to his father, an hour before he took his own life. It's Toby's voice that's constantly ringing in Quincy's ears each time he dribbles up the court.
Burton's father and stepfather were both murdered. Every game, Burton sees them in his mind. Then they're gone. Just like that. It's enough for the pint-sized point guard to put his head down and wind his way through a maze of players for another layup.
Roberts and Burton, two of the best high school basketball players in Pennsylvania, forged a cross-state friendship that began through their AAU team, Team Final, which also features Tyreke Evans. Burton and Roberts know about each other's plight.
"I didn't really know how to approach him about it," said Burton, who led powerhouse Chester to a 33-1 record this winter and a second PIAA Class AAAA state championship in the four years. "It took some time before I called him back and passed my condolences along to him. Quincy knows he can come to me if he needs someone to get his back, like I can with him."
Burton has had the benefit of time to heal his wounds. The quicksilver 5-9 point guard lost both his father and stepfather within a year, when he was 16.
Every thing is still fresh with Roberts. Though it happened August 30, 2007, the thought of his father's death still haunts him.
"Every day I think about him," said Roberts, also a standout wide receiver who has drawn the attention of Penn State and carries a 3.5 GPA. "I remember my uncle Mike calling out of the blue. He needed to talk to me, but I could sense there was something different about his voice.
"He told me my father was shot; I couldn't believe it at first. I broke down. I didn't know what to do. I found out later my father took his own life. He didn't leave a note. I've had friends shot and killed. You expect the worst, but not like this. Not like this."
Burton and Roberts devised a plan before the season -- a state final between Harrisburg and Chester. The Clippers were expected to get there, led by Burton, Pittsburgh-bound Nasir Robinson, and Division-I bookend forwards Russell Johnson and Rahlir Jefferson.
But Harrisburg needed Roberts. He was hurt during parts of the season, the young Cougars lost in the District 3 playoffs and were placed in the eastern part of the state playoffs -- with Chester. The Cougars became "Quincy and the Miracles," according to Harrisburg coach Kirk Smallwood, a major driving force in Roberts' life.
"We butted heads a lot this season, because he was hurt and there were a few times I wanted to take him out, but he wanted to stay in and fight, just for his teammates, like a leader should," Smallwood said. "That's just Quincy. He's an amazing kid."
Harrisburg drew Chester in the second round of the state playoffs and put up a good fight before falling 61-51.
Burton is considering Auburn, St. John's, Oregon State, Temple and LaSalle. Roberts de-committed from Miami and is considering Auburn, St. John's and Virginia. They each finished the season as their local area's player of the year.
After the Chester-Harrisburg game, Roberts met Burton at midcourt, along with Burton's mother, Arletta. The three embraced for a few minutes, then emerged teary-eyed.
"Quincy was trying to win and I was trying to win, but it felt crazy sending him home," Karon said. "Q called me right after we won the state championship to congratulate me. I hope the best for him. He has a fan in me. We tell each other all the time to stay focused. The way we see it, after what each of us has been through, life is easy."