He is a leader of the nation's top-ranked high school basketball team, but Dunbar's Michael Lloyd would give up the game tomorrow, if only he could bring his best friend Rodney Beasley back to life.
"If he needed a kidney, an arm, a leg, I'd have given it to him," Lloyd was saying after practice the other day. "That might have been my time to stop playing, just to save his life. I'd have done it, no problem."
Sometimes it's difficult cheering for Goliath, and this Dunbar team is every bit that, but then you notice Rodney Beasley's name scrawled on the players' white sneakers, and hear these kids speak of their former teammate with love.
This Goliath has a heart.
A heart beating for Rodney Beasley.
He spent two years at Dunbar, then transferred to Walbrook, seeking more playing time and a college scholarship. Last April 13, he played in the annual underclassman all-star game at Morgan State. Hours later, he was killed in a car wreck.
Lloyd's sister, Kristal Preston, was driving. According to police reports, she skidded on wet pavement attempting to stop at a light on East Preston Street. Beasley was in the passenger's seat, and Lloyd was directly behind him, along with two other Walbrook players in the back.
Lloyd recalls Beasley reaching over to grab the steering wheel, but the car slammed into a metal pole supporting a traffic light and burst into flames. Forty minutes later at Johns Hopkins Hospital, doctors pronounced Rodney Beasley dead of multiple injuries.
He was 17.
Lloyd's sister was rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and treated for a broken leg. Lloyd and the two Walbrook players, Carl Williams and Joe Wilson, were taken to Mercy Medical Center. Each was released later that night.
"When I got home, they told me Rodney had died. They said he was dead on the spot," says Lloyd, who suffered only a sprained ankle, but was knocked unconscious briefly. "I couldn't believe it. 'He ain't dead' -- that's all I kept saying. 'It must be a mistake.' I was just stunned.
"To this day, I still don't believe he's dead. I got a picture blown up from when we played together -- me wearing No. 21, him 35. It's hanging on my wall. Every morning, he's smiling at me. It's like he's still here. He ain't even gone."
And so it is at Dunbar, where this special season is dedicated to Beasley. Lloyd, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, scored 27 points yesterday -- the first 13 on five dunks and a three-pointer -- to lift the Poets (14-0) to a 94-59 victory at Poly in their final tuneup for this weekend's Charm City Classic at Towson State.
Most of the Dunbar players were friendly with Beasley, but to Lloyd he was like a brother. The families live across the street from each other. Lloyd sleeps in a bunkbed. Beasley often would take the top bunk. The poster-size photo of the two hangs over the bed.
Rodney Beasley was always smiling -- Lloyd recalls bursting into his house angry about one thing or another, and seeing Rodney just sitting there, grinning at him. "The type of guy who made everyone laugh," Dunbar senior forward Donta Bright says.
The type of guy who was just so alive.
"It hurt us. It hurt the city," Bright says of Beasley's death. "You wouldn't think a guy like Rodney Beasley would die. It's the good ones that always are taken away. The ones that should be taken away . . . it never happens."
The loss touched many people, but perhaps no one more than Lloyd. Beasley is never far from his mind, especially during Dunbar's pre-game prayer. "The whole time I'm thinking about all the good times we had, playing 1-on-1, dunking on each other, shooting jump shots," Lloyd says.
"When he was here, I was a hothead, I had a terrible attitude," Lloyd continues. "Now I look at things on the bright side. It could have been both of us. It could have been everyone in the car.
"I take things more seriously. I try to hold back. He used to tell me, 'You've got to watch your attitude. People are looking at you.' I didn't want to hear it. But now, I get what he was saying. I've pretty much calmed down."
Says Dunbar coach Pete Pompey, "After something tragic like that happens -- and he [Lloyd] was right there -- you take things more seriously. He's more serious about life, more serious about the things he wants to do. He realizes, it's here now, gone tomorrow."
Beasley would have been no more than a sixth man at Dunbar, but he grew into a Division I prospect at Walbrook. He probably would be sifting through scholarship offers if he were still alive. Lloyd already has visited Minnesota and Clemson. He also plans to visit Arkansas and maybe Providence.
"I want a high-school diploma. I want a college degree. I'm hitting the books hard," Lloyd says. "I want to make my family happy, and his family happy, too. Whatever I do is for both our families."
It is in this way Rodney Beasley lives on. Michael Lloyd sees him over his bed, on his sneakers, in his prayers. Cheer for Lloyd, cheer for Dunbar. This Goliath has a heart.