M.C. Hammer, relatives, coaches honor Dennehy

Updated: August 7, 2003, 8:35 PM ET

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Patrick Dennehy, the Baylor University basketball player missing for weeks before his body was found in late July, spent his last years moving awkwardly between youth and adulthood, haunted by heady questions about the direction of his complicated life.

For years the victim of school bullies who taunted his gangly stature, the 6-foot-10 athlete struggled to balance basketball and academics. Raised by his mother and stepfather, Dennehy had only recently begun having emotional phone conversations with his biological father, whom he had never met in person.

The 21-year-old forward, who once pined to be drafted by the Sacramento Kings, even told teammates that he had been questioning whether he wanted to become professional athlete with fame and money or "just a regular guy" with a family and modest apartment.

"He was as much a man as he was a boy, as easy going as he was stubborn," girlfriend Jessica De La Rosa, 20, told more than 300 people who gathered for Dennehy's memorial at Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose. "There was nothing at all simple about that guy ... but he still makes me smile and laugh because there were so many things about him that were wonderful."

Jubilee Pastor Dick Bernal, who inspired Dennehy to become a born-again Christian in June 2002, said the only thing Dennehy didn't doubt was his rekindled faith in Jesus.

Dennehy, who transferred to Baylor last year after getting kicked off the University of New Mexico Lobos for temper tantrums, had begun to read the Bible daily. He persuaded his best friend to convert to Christianity, and he said he wanted to create a summer camp program for impoverished children.

"The Bible says that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, and Patrick did that a year ago," Bernal said as people in the crowd listened, wept and at times held their palms up to the sky. "He was still a kid, and he did some foolish things like all of us did as young men. There are questions that need to be answered, but we believe by God's grace they'll be answered by his divine providence."

Dennehy was last seen near Baylor's campus in Waco, Texas, on June 12, and his family reported him missing June 19.

In late July, investigators began combing gravel pits near campus. Carlton Dotson, 21, Dennehy's roommate and former teammate, was arrested and charged with murder July 21, after reportedly telling authorities he shot Dennehy when Dennehy tried to shoot him.

The two-hour service, punctuated by blasts from a dozen gold-robed gospel singers, two electric guitars and a tear-jerking rendition of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings," included a scripture reading by M.C. Hammer. The rap star was a Jubilee minister in the late '90s, when he lead a Sunday night hip-hop service at the nondenominational church.

"It always hurts to see our young people go in such very tragic circumstances," Hammer said before quoting Psalm 23: "I will fear no evil for Thou art with me."

Dennehy, who burst into tears the first time he attended Jubilee, told friends and family he loved the church's diverse congregation. At Thursday's memorial, people of all colors clapped and swayed as the choir rejoiced in a rock 'n' roll hymn, "Our God is an Awesome God."

Nearly a dozen Baylor officials, including president Robert B. Sloan Jr. and coach Dave Bliss, stood stiffly in a row. Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university with 14,000 students, ended a 151-year-old ban on dancing in 1996, and the university is still known for conservatism.

Baylor will hold its own memorial Aug. 28 in Waco.

Despite assurances from Bernal and other ministers that Dennehy was resting joyfully in heaven, people close to him struggled to understand his murder. They wondered why Dennehy and Dotson had purchased guns and pit bulls earlier this year.

Stepfather Brian Brabazon and De La Rosa both said they resented Dotson, who is in a Maryland jail and could be extradited to Texas.

"I can't say I've forgiven him per se, but eventually my feelings for Carlton will change," Brabazon said in a news conference after the memorial. "Not to be bitter, but I do want to see justice served."

"We don't hate him by any means," De La Rosa said of "Dotty," who moved into Dennehy's off-campus luxury apartment after his brief marriage ended. "But one of the hardest things for any of us is to forgive."


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