Death doesn't show up often in the realm of high school basketball. But it had a lot to do with Rod West's season.
"I almost didn't get to play at all," West said. "That would have been something. Because I would have missed a lot of fun and great memories."
The Augusta Chronicle's South Carolina All-Area Player of the Year isn't talking about a transfer. Or grades. Or injury.
"I was riding my dirt bike and fell off and almost got hit by a car," West said. "It was almost the end of me in the blink of an eye."
The senior shooting guard was riding to the corner convenience store just off Whiskey Road last spring.
"The brake kind of froze up, and I tumbled off the bike and into the middle of the road," he said. "Kind of scary. I saw my whole life flash before my eyes. The cars that were coming at me stopped. They weren't going that fast. But they were enough to throw a big scare into me for sure."
So after selling that red-and-white dirt bike at his mother's request, he stared taking life more seriously.
Basketball was a big part of that. He finally worked on going to his left more. He gave all he had more often on defense. He tried to be a better teammate.
West listened to the roar of the South Aiken crowd a little more. Many times, he was the cause of those cheers.
"This was my best year playing basketball," West said. "I think that scare had something to do with it. I was motivated more. It seemed like basketball meant more.
"It showed me I wanted to go somewhere and do something with my life. And not be one of those kids you read about in the newspaper who died when they were way too young."
That wasn't his only glimpse of his own mortality.
His half-sister, Erica Merriweather, was killed in a car accident in February. She was 25.
"I knew her very well," West said. "She could really run fast when we were growing up. The reason I probably got so fast myself was racing her and trying to catch up to her."
Her funeral was the day of South Aiken's playoff game against Lexington. West scored 18 points in the victory, calling it the best game of his season and dedicating it to Merriweather.
Those two experiences shaped West's season.
He was at his best during crunch time this year, leading South Aiken to its first region championship in 20 years.
"I'm just a big Rod West fan," South Aiken coach Carlos Hope said. "You know what you are going to get every night with him.
"He's a competitor that doesn't know the meaning of the word complacency. Whenever I pulled him aside and said I needed a little more out of him, he gave it. He really grew up this year."
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