By all accounts, Larry Ellison did not sell drugs or run with a rough crowd.
He was a popular, generous 17-year-old who earned a place on the Mervo basketball team more on hard work than talent.
And that's what makes Larry Ellison's death so hard for his teammates and friends to understand.
"I still can't believe it," said teammate Victor Jones, standing outside of the chapel at March Funeral Home in East Baltimore yesterday afternoon after Ellison's funeral.
"It's not like we knew he was sick. He was in perfect health. On the court, if I didn't know where to go, he would tell me where to go. He was positive. He helped with the canned food drives, and for Thanksgiving he took time to go down to St. Ann's [Church] and pass out food and feed [the homeless]. He wasn't doing anything wrong. All these people on corners selling drugs, and it's him who's dead."
Ellison died Jan. 2 after suffering a heart attack while sleeping. An autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart. He had no previous medical problems.
In an area where it's no surprise to hear about 16- or 17-year-olds FTC who involve themselves with drugs, Ellison's death hit particularly hard.
"Larry was all about helping everybody else out," said senior Jason Holley, another teammate. "He was all right. He was cool. He wasn't all about smoking or drinking. He was all about having fun the natural way."
Members of the Mervo varsity and junior varsity basketball teams met with members of a crisis intervention team and a grief counselor last Thursday and Friday to talk about Ellison's death.
The Rev. Patricia Johnson, a physical education instructor at Mervo, who gave the eulogy, said that initially players talked of a fear of going to sleep.
"Most of them were very disturbed and very fearful that one could go to sleep and not wake up the next morning," she said. "The thing they expressed most was that he had just practiced with them that Tuesday. They are beginning to understand. Some are saying, 'I'm just going to have to do more or care more.' "
Mervo principal Christolyne Buie said arrangements also were made for other students to meet with counselors.
"It's been school-wide because he was a popular youngster and a good kid," said Buie. "Even young people recognize goodness. He was the kind of youngster who was truly involved with his class, involved with the yearbook. He was always trying to look out for somebody else, trying to get another kid back on the team. He just went out of his way to try and do a lot of things to benefit other people."
More than 400 people, mostly students, packed the chapel yesterday. Many stood in the hall to hear songs and poems and recollections of Ellison's love for sweets, his aggressive play on the basketball court and his caring for the needy.
The accounting class presented his mother with a plaque and a poem. His teammates decided to retire his jersey No. 55. When Buie granted Ellison honorary graduate status, his classmates applauded and they cried.