Miami had just stunned Wright State, 65-62, thanks to a deep three at the buzzer by the RedHawks’ Isaiah Coleman-Lands.
As the Raiders trudged off the Nutter Center court Wednesday night, Skyelar Potter was in tears.
The freshman guard had suddenly been hit by a real sense of loss, but not because of Miami’s shot as time expired.
“She was supposed to be here tonight,” he quietly explained afterward. “It just hit me. She’s never going to be here …again.”
Last Saturday night 38-year-old Donna Kaye Potter – “She was another mom to me, I really don’t call her my step mom,” he said — died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
“She has been with me since I was a kid,” he said. “After my parents divorced, I was around her more than my actual mom.
“She just did everything for me and my younger sister and my dad. She made sure I stayed straight. She paid the bills, worked a job, kept up the house, guided me. She helped me with all my college papers, the stuff for financial aid, everything.
“She called me Babe and Boo Boo, all the loving stuff a normal mom says.
“She was a very good woman – for real.”
It was some 20 minutes after the game now – a game in which he had scored a career-best 17 points on everything from his own three pointers to a falling, acrobatic flip-before-he-hit-the-floor drive – and as he reflected on the loss of his stepmother, his eyes began to glisten again.
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Raiders assistant coach Clint Sargent had driven him back home to Bowling Green, Kentucky on Sunday morning so he could be with his family. He had returned to the WSU campus Tuesday afternoon so he could play in Wednesday’s game.
“It was all weighing on me a lot,” he said. “I was thinking about Donna all day, every day since it happened. So I dedicated the game her. I played for her.”
And now in a few minutes his high school coach would drive him back home again so he could attend the funeral services and, he said, be there for his dad and especially his younger sister, Chloe:
“I don’t think my sister really believes it yet. She’s 13, an eighth grader, and she still laughs and talks about other things.
“She doesn’t understand this is how it will be for the rest of her life. That’s her birth mom and she’s not coming back. She’s not going to have her anymore. She’s going to have to grow up faster now.”
Skyelar, who’s just 18 himself, planned to be there for his dad and sister at Thursday’s wake, just as the rest of the Wright State team would bus down and be there for him.
The funeral is Friday.
“I dealt with death before,” he said. “My granny died. But I was real young and yeah, I cried, but I didn’t really understand. Now being a little older and having someone who’s like a mom to me die, it’s crazy to think about, really.”
‘Happened without warning’
Brad Potter, Skyelar’s dad, and Donna were supposed to go to Wright State’s game at Indiana State Saturday afternoon, as well, but Skyelar said they called the trip off because of bad weather.
“It’s good they didn’t come because this would have happened while they were still driving home,” he said.
“I mean it just happened without warning. Yeah, they had heart problems in their genes, but she never had a problem ever in her life.
“She’d had a normal day. She wasn’t sick. She went to work. Then she went to the bathroom and fell over with a massive heart attack.”
She died at 9:26 p.m. Saturday.
“Nobody wanted to tell me at first, they didn’t want me to worry,” he said. “But my sister had a friend over – one of her little friends from AAU or something – and she texted me.
“I was really worried and kept calling my dad, but he wouldn’t pick up. I finally got Chloe and she was crying.
“At that point I didn’t know what to do. We had come back from the game and I was in my room. It was 11 or 12 Saturday night and I was about to get in my car and leave. But everybody told me not to because it was really late. “
Instead Sargent picked him up the next morning.
“He got in the car and I gave him a big hug,” Sargent said. “There were some tears and I just told him I loved him.
“In a situation like this that’s all we can do. Just support him and love him. So many times a coach feels like he has to say this or say that, but really a lot of it is just simply being there in the most difficult of times.
“Skyelar only being 18, his head goes in a lot of different places. I told him if he wants to talk, we’ll talk. If he wants to sleep, he can sleep. I reaffirmed our love and support and then I kind of let it up to him.”
When Sargent got to Bowling Green, he said he sat down with Skyelar and his dad to comfort them and tell them he and the team would do whatever they needed.
Skyelar said when he got back to campus on Tuesday, he sought out some teammates.
“To keep myself from going – I won’t say into depression – but from going off and just being by myself, I stayed with guys like James (Manns) and Jaylon (Hall) because they’re goofy and funny and I kind of laughed and got my mind off of it.”
Wednesday morning he said he went to the gym with Sargent:
“I just wanted to get some shots up. I just wanted to get the feel because I knew the day was going to be rough.”
‘I was playing for her’
A prep star at Warren Central High in Bowling Green., the 6-foot-3 Potter had led his team to the Final Four of Kentucky’s all-class state tournament last March.
And while he’s one of the most athletic players WSU has had in a long time, he’s experienced the ups and downs most freshmen face when they transition to college ball.
While he scored 16 in the opener against Western Carolina and 13 against both Toledo and North Florida, he had an 0-for-9 night from the floor against Cedarville and was 0-for-6 against Penn State.
In Miami, he was facing a school that had recruited him and he had visited, but eventually turned down.
And while he played with a heavy heart Wednesday night, he also showed a soft touch.
He made 6 of 10 field goal attempts, with 15 of his points coming in the second half.
Later, no one was more impressed than Sargent:
“I’m so proud of him for the way he handled … the whole week really. The way he handed talking with his family and friends. The way he came back and got reacclimated and the way he handled himself tonight.”
In his private reflections before heading home, Skyelar said that’s the way it had to be on this night:
“I was playing for her. I had to give everything I had.”