As one of three seniors on the Maryland women’s basketball team, Lynetta Kizer is fully aware each game in this NCAA tournament, including Sunday’s region semifinal in Raleigh, N.C., against reigning national champion Texas A&M, may well be the last of her college career.
When that moment arrives, Kizer said the other day, it will invoke a catalogue of emotions, but perhaps none as poignant as when the center removes her jersey for the final time.
No doubt she’ll reflect at great length on her No. 12, which the center has worn since her freshman season at Maryland in honor of the late Chavis Harris, whom Kizer called another big brother, a mentor and a dear friend.
Shortly after graduating from Mount Vernon High School in 2004, Harris died from osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that’s most common among adolescents. At that time, Kizer was a promising freshman at Potomac High in Dumfries.
“I was pretty much broken from there because this is someone that you look up to, someone that has seen you play basketball, that has been out there with you playing basketball, is at your house, stuff like that,” Kizer said. “Just one of my role models, one of the people who watched me grow up and taught me the game. It’s just really heartbreaking for me. It’s been a while since he’s passed, but I just had to wear his number because he’s a big part of me.”
The two had become close through Kizer’s older brother Dominique, who played basketball with Harris from when they were kids and then in high school. As a preteen, Kizer frequently would accompany her brother and Harris to wherever they went to play basketball, hoping one day that she, too, would be able to do the same in high school and beyond.
Harris wore No. 12 at Mount Vernon, and his energy, fortitude and enthusiasm for the game always captivated Kizer. That’s why when Harris, who learned he had the disease in 2002, began showing initial symptoms, including a limp, Kizer asked her brother why.
“I didn’t understand. At this time I’m 12 years old,” Kizer said. “I asked my brother, ‘What’s wrong with Chav?’ I always called him Chav. He just never really wanted to tell me until he started getting really, really sick.”
Kizer continued to wear her regular No. 55 throughout high school, but when she committed to Maryland, the 2008 All-Met asked for the number change in a conversation with Coach Brenda Frese. Kizer didn’t reveal the specifics behind the request, preferring instead to keep her motivation personal at the time.
In the days leading up to Maryland’s regular season game against Georgetown at McDonough Gym during her junior season, Kizer had reached out to Harris’s father, Kent Boone. Kizer and the man she calls “Poppa Kent” remain close, and among Boone’s most rewarding pleasures is following Georgetown men’s basketball.
Boone, who serves as an assistant at Hoyas Coach John Thompson III’s summer camp, has been an avid Georgetown fan for decades and authors the blog Glide Hoyas, in which he offers inspirational messages to his beloved team.
Boone initially had decided not to attend the game, but Kizer persuaded him otherwise and even left him a ticket at will call. Problem was, when Boone showed up decked out in his Hoyas gear, he had to pick up the ticket on the Terrapins’ side.
“I got a bunch of ugly stares and questions like, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be going to the will call for Georgetown?’ ” Boone said. “I said, ‘Well, Lynetta Kizer left me a ticket.’ So I walk in the gym and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ Everything is like in slow motion. I mean the whole game.”
Boone sat in a corner of the bleachers by himself because he said he knew the experience might lead him to tear up, which he does to this day in recounting his relationship with his son. After the Hoyas won, 53-45, Kizer and Boone did as much catching up as possible before Maryland’s team bus headed back to College Park.
Above all the accolades, trophies and awards Kizer has collected in four seasons at Maryland, among her most cherished possessions is Chavis’s playing jersey emblazoned with the No. 12. Boone passed along the jersey to Kizer after one of her college games, and she keeps it close in mind if not necessarily at hand.
Chavis’s memory has been of special comfort this season, when Kizer went from an established starter — she was named ACC rookie of the year as a freshman — to a reserve role behind sophomore Alicia DeVaughn. Kizer started one game this season, senior night against North Carolina on Feb. 24, but embraced her new calling to such a degree that she was selected the ACC’s sixth player of the year.
“It does speak volumes of Lynetta, what type of person she is,” said Frese, whose son Tyler, 4, was determined to have leukemia two years ago. “Always playing for others, always putting others before herself. That doesn’t surprise me to choose someone’s number given such a personal situation. It obviously says a lot about Lynetta.”