Baylor pays tribute to slain basketball player

Updated: August 29, 2003, 7:52 AM ET

WACO, Texas -- For one night, Baylor University's beleaguered basketball team didn't worry about its uncertain future -- and friends and relatives of slain 6-foot-10 forward Patrick Dennehy didn't dwell on the questions surrounding his death.

As a crowd of 300 gathered in Baylor's Powell Chapel on Thursday night, the focus wasn't on NCAA rules violations or the murder charge against Dennehy's former teammate Carlton Dotson.

The attention on this night belonged to Dennehy: his sense of humor, his dream of playing in the NBA, his commitment to Jesus Christ.

"I'm not exactly sure what God's plan was on this one, why Patrick had to leave us so young," said John Cunningham, a communications professor who was close to Dennehy. "My only guess is that they needed a power forward on the starting basketball team up there."

Jessica De La Rosa, Dennehy's girlfriend of two years, recalled that he had "this little boy inside of him" who thought it more important to buy Fruity Pebbles than meat at the grocery store -- and always smelled every bar of soap before buying one.

But he had a serious side, too, she said: He believed where a person started was less important than where they finished.

"Even though Patrick's body perished, his soul is alive," De La Rosa said. "His soul is up in heaven ... so God's got him and Patrick finished as strongly as anybody ever could."

Thursday's memorial service marked Baylor's first public event to honor Dennehy since the 21-year-old's body -- with two bullet holes in the head -- was found July 25 in a field near a rock quarry southeast of town. He had been missing for six weeks.

Dennehy never got to play in Baylor's gold-domed arena.

After transferring to Baylor last summer from New Mexico, Dennehy couldn't play for a year because of NCAA rules. He wasn't as well-known as other team members among the 14,000 students but had several close friends.

Dotson, who played basketball at Baylor last season and lived with Dennehy a few months, was arrested July 21 in his home state of Maryland. He was indicted for murder Wednesday and could be extradited to Texas in the next 60 days.

In the wake of Dennehy's death, revelations of secretly paid players, doctored drug tests and a tape-recorded plot by former coach Dave Bliss to cover up wrongdoing have shaken this university town between Austin and Dallas.

"Our students were gone when these tragic events unfolded this summer," campus minister Todd Lake said. "They just arrived back on Monday, and this is a chance to gather in the first few days to have a service of worship and comfort those who are sad."

Scott Drew, hired to replace former coach Dave Bliss, and Dennehy's remaining teammates all attended the service. Senior captain Matt Sayman said the players would take the night off from thinking or talking about basketball and dedicate it to remembering Dennehy.

"I think it's a real important night for us because we've kind of been holding on to this for a while now," Sayman said. "It's a chance to let go and grieve together."

A piano and an organ played the comforting strands of "It is Well With My Soul" as the service opened. Baylor President Robert Sloan led a prayer asking for God's comfort and grace. Later, mourners stood and sang "Amazing Grace."

Katie New, a 19-year-old sophomore from Liberty, Mo., didn't know Dennehy, but she attended the service anyway.

"Even though there are 14,000 students at Baylor, it's still a family ... and we have to come out and support each other," New said of the world's largest Baptist university.

Dennehy's mother, Valorie Brabazon, dabbed her eyes with a tissue as Dick Bernal, pastor of Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, Calif., suggested her son entered "the hall of fame of faith."

Brabazon, wearing a picture of her son pinned to a blue ribbon attached to her dress, said after the service that she felt comforted by talking to her son's friends and professors.

"Actually it was very hard for me to go to a second memorial," said Brabazon, who attended a service for her son in California earlier this month. "When it's your son, the hurt is still there. It hurts all over again."

Former athletic director Tom Stanton, who resigned along with Bliss on Aug. 8 after major violations in the basketball program were announced, hugged the players before they walked into the chapel. Bliss did not attend the service.

Dotson's estranged wife, Melissa Kethley, attended the service and hugged the players, Dennehy's mother and girlfriend afterward.

Dennehy's stepfather, Brian Brabazon, and the player's teenage sister -- who live in Carson City, Nev. -- could not attend the service because of work and school conflicts, Lake said.

But Lake told the crowd that Brian Brabazon wanted them to know that Jesus Christ never left Dennehy's side.

"Though he died in a rural field ... Patrick did not die alone," Lake said. "His mother and father's love, the love of friends, the love of Christ was there with him."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index