For weeks following the death of his basketball coach, Frank Williams, Coolidge High School senior Donald Hodge walked around in a daze.

The 6-foot-10 1/2 center, with whom Williams had worked intensely during Hodge's sophomore and junior seasons, had grown especially close to his mentor. So when Williams, 42, died last May of a brain tumor, Hodge lost more than a coach.

"I just went crazy for a while," said Hodge, who lives with his grandmother and viewed Williams as a father figure. "I just couldn't believe he was gone. I know I took his death harder than anyone else. He had done so much for me and I felt bad because I couldn't show him how much I appreciated it.

"We had a so-so year last year and I knew I didn't do my best. I started to remember those long days in that gym, those talks we would have about life and everything he told me. Now he was gone. I made a promise right then I would play as hard as I could and do everything Coach Williams told me."

Hodge has kept his promise to himself. Williams' motivational speeches and pleas to Hodge to work hard and improve his status both as a player and as a person suddenly meant everything to the senior. Williams' successor and long-time friend, Len Farello, takes no credit for Hodge's play this year.

"Frank would get so angry with Donald. Frank couldn't understand why Donald didn't want to work to be successful," said Farello, who was Williams' assistant for 16 years. "He saw something in the kid. He would say 'I never met a 6-10 kid I didn't like.' Frank could see that Donald was going to be a great player if he worked. So, Frank got Donald in the gym every day for an entire summer and pushed him, made him work."

Hodge earned MVP honors in the Sidwell Friends Summer League and has emerged as the most consistent player in the Interhigh League and one of the area's top players. He is averaging 22 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks while shooting over 60 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line.

Led by Hodge, the Colts are in first place in the league with a 9-0 record and are 15-2 overall. Both losses came in the Las Vegas Holiday tournament but Hodge distinguished himself with one 33-point, 19-rebound game.

In recent games, Hodge has been virtually unstoppable. After scoring 19 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, blocking six blocks and handing out four assists in his team's stunning 76-51 win over Dunbar, Crimson Tide Coach Mike McLeese said Hodge "simply took over the game."

Farello observed the dramatic change in Hodge right away.

"You could see the difference in his attitude," Farello said. "We dedicated the season to Frank, but Donald made a personal commitment to himself. Now he is living up to everything people expected of him. I think he wants to show Coach everything he did wasn't for nothing. Donald's play is his way of showing his gratitude for what Frank did for him."

Farello is happy to see Hodge fulfilling the promise he has shown since he came out of Backus Junior High four years ago. Despite having all the skills, Hodge just wasn't motivated and seemed to be going through the motions.

"I just wasn't that interested in playing basketball," Hodge said. "I liked to shoot, nothing else. The game was fun and I wasn't about to get serious. In the 10th and 11th grades, I just wasn't motivated to be a good player. I didn't have to compete for a starting spot and there was no challenge for me. I wasn't thinking about college, I just went out and played. When the game was over, that was that. I had no idea of what was going on then."

Even after the many hours in the gym with Williams, Hodge still wasn't ready to be the force everyone expected. Last year, he spent a lot of minutes in Williams' doghouse for missing practices or not putting enough effort into practice or games. The Colts, 26-5 and city champions in Hodge's sophomore year, slipped to 18-11 and a third-place finish in the Interhigh League last season. Hodge averaged only about 14 points and seven rebounds per game when he played.

At the halfway mark of this season, Hodge has already made good on his promise. Even his teammates have noticed a difference in his attitude.

Hodge's desire to be associated with a family-oriented team is a major reason he signed early with Temple University, one of Williams' strong recommendations as a choice for his star player.

"Coach {John} Chaney reminds me of an older Coach Williams," Hodge said. "He cares about what happens to his players. Even though I've signed, Coach Chaney constantly calls and keeps in touch with postcards inquiring about how I'm doing."

Chaney, whose team is ranked sixth in the nation, said he felt Hodge could make an immediate impact on his team next season.

"Donald comes from a great program and has been taught the basics," Chaney said. "He has a lot of ability and we are very glad he chose Temple."

Hodge, who also credits Williams with developing his court awareness, takes great pride in not making the little mistakes anymore. Hodge also has more pride in his academic work.

"Everything is going very well right now," Hodge said. "I'm much more serious about school than I was before. Academically, I've done better and I know I've improved on the court. All those little things Coach used to tell me, I do now. Those long hours of work with us going one-on-one is paying off. I don't need anyone to push me anymore, I push myself. Coach Williams made me love this game and I will never forget that."