With heavy heart, Monessen native Minnie plays on after mother's death
Two days before he leads Eastern Michigan into the Mid-American Conference men's basketball tournament, Elijah Minnie said a final farewell to his proudest fan, a beacon of light in his life who won't be there to watch — his mother.
Minnie was joined Tuesday by his teammates at his mother's funeral in Monessen.
The former Monessen and Robert Morris standout has not missed a game since Justina Minnie Underwood died unexpectedly on Feb. 25. She was 39.
In fact, the 6-foot-9 junior forward continues to play inspired basketball in the shadow of the devastating loss.
“My mom wouldn't want me to stop playing for any reason,” Minnie said. “If I am able to play, she would want me to play. For me, it's my get-away. Everyone has their thing they can escape to. For me, it's basketball.”
Minnie said his team's support and the unwavering support of friends and family has and will continue to carry him through.
The Eagles (20-11) open the MAC Tournament Thursday night in Cleveland.
“My family believes in me and I have a great cast of friends,” he said. “I am going to keep fighting. I can play through the adversity.”
Minnie has played some of his best basketball of late. He picked up his second Mid-American Conference Player of the Week award in as many weeks for the Eagles.
He had 18 points and nine rebounds in a 74-58 win over Western Michigan, then scored 25 and pulled down eight rebounds in a 71-69 win over Toledo.
Minnie leads EMU in scoring at 16.8 points and also averages 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 31.2 minutes. He was named to the all-MAC third team.
Minnie averaged 12 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his sophomore year at Robert Morris.
Elijah said Justina was his biggest fan, always there to cheer him on, as his basketball career blossomed.
He said his family agreed it would be best for him to keep playing.
“She came to watch me play in Buffalo and Indiana,” he said. “She would always find the games online. She was always following me.
“When I was in high school I scored my 1,000th point at Geneva College. Not too many people knew I had scored it. But she stood up in the stands with a big sign and screamed. Everyone knew after that.”
Justina also is the mother of current Monessen standout Lyndon Henderson.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.