By Marty Farmer
The retired jerseys of Fenwick high school legends John Lattner (#34) and Corey Maggette (#50) adorn the rafters of the gym, but Saturday belonged to John Malone and his number 52.
Fenwick hosted the 1st Annual John Malone Memorial 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament to honor the former Friars basketball player, who was tragically killed in a car accident on Saturday, May 4.
Malone, 20, was killed when he was ejected from a 2003 Ford Explorer that blew a tire and rolled three times northbound on I-65. Malone was heading home to River Forest with some friends from Bloomington, Ind., where he was an Indiana University student.
Saturday provided a homecoming of sorts for family, friends, teammates, coaches and teachers to remember the affable Malone. The idea of a memorial basketball tournament, fittingly, came from his high school teammates/friends Dylan Barnett, Leo Latz, Tim Gancer and Joe Dwyer.
"After everything that's happened, we wanted to do something to remember John," said Barnett, Malone's best friend. "We talked with [Fenwick athletic director Scott] Thies to organize a basketball tournament to honor his memory. He had been thinking along the same lines as us."
Barnett and Malone, who were roommates their freshmen year at IU, also played basketball together for the Friars.
Malone played basketball on Fenwick's varsity team during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward/center averaged four points and seven rebounds per game his senior year. He was named a tri-captain along with Barnett and Gancer in 2010-11. The Friars finished 14-12 in both Malone's junior and senior campaigns.
Saturday's turnout of well over 130 tournament participants and 30 teams, along with countless friends and family, served as a glowing testament to Malone's considerable impact on so many people's lives on and off the court.
"This is overwhelming," said his mother, Cathy. "His friends and [Fenwick athletic director] Scott Thies put this tournament together. The support throughout the Oak Park and River Forest community has been unbelievable. I'm still writing thank you cards from the memorial for John. Obviously, I have my good days and bad days, but the outpouring of love for John and concern for our family helps me get through."
Jack Malone, John's father, expressed similar heartfelt sentiments about Saturday's tournament. Malone was also very close with his sister, Ciara, and stepdad, Jim Shaw.
"The support has blown us away," Jack Malone said. "At John's wake, over 4,000 people paid their respects. Even though I'm from Ireland, I love basketball. John taught me about the game and I'm glad everybody is having a fantastic time at the tournament.
"I talk about John. Whether it's laughing, crying or just remembering him, it helps me to let my emotions out. John had a big smile and a heart of gold. And another great thing about him was how he helped the younger kids at Fenwick.
His basketball coach at Fenwick, John Quinn, also noticed Malone's innate concern for others.
"John was a gentle giant," Quinn said. "He looked out for the other players, especially the younger guys. He was our post player and a natural leader."
Malone was honored as the Phil Sloan Award winner (voted on by Fenwick basketball coaches), an annual honor given to the Fenwick basketball player who best exemplifies leadership, selflessness and character.
On Saturday, Barnett wore Malone's Fenwick home jersey while one of Malone's cousins, Jack Walsh, donned an Indiana University number 52 basketball jersey, personally given to Malone's family from IU coach Tom Crean. Malone and Walsh, who also played basketball at Fenwick, graduated together from Fenwick in 2011.
"I didn't know about the [Indiana] jersey until a friend of mine told me about it and that it had been given to my uncle and coach Crean also wrote a letter with the jersey," Walsh said. "I saw the jersey when I got home from summer school. It's pretty cool to see how many people came out [today] in memory of John. He and I were very close. We lived in the same apartment building, hung out together almost every day, and we were also [Acacia] fraternity brothers at IU."
Barnett added: "John's parents asked me if I wanted to wear John's Fenwick jersey at the tournament," Barnett said. "It's an honor to wear it. It's really awesome to see how many people came out for the tournament."
Dan Dwyer, who currently is the starting center for the Friars, happily jumped into the tournament action on short notice.
"I got picked up on a team the night before the tournament," the 6-8 Dwyer said. "John was very good friends with my older brother [Joe Dwyer] so I knew him pretty well. This tournament is a really cool way to remember John."
After Thies welcomed the tournament players, the school president Fr. Richard A. Peddicord led everyone in prayer. Then, the tournament commenced followed by lunch at Goldyburgers in Forest Park.
Saturday's celebration in memory of Malone reinforced Fenwick's communal feel. It's been an arduous year for the Oak Park high school. Twenty-five-year-old Anne Smedinghoff, another Fenwick alumna, was killed in a car bomb blast in southern Afghanistan while serving as a U.S. diplomat this year. She was working as a press officer in the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
"We really value a sense of community at Fenwick," Peddicord said. "Watching the way people have looked out for each other during difficult times like the loss Anne and John is truly inspiring. The basketball tournament in John's memory [today] is a wonderful example of our community praying together and playing together."
The proceeds from the First Annual John Malone Memorial Basketball Tournament will go towards scholarship funds in his name at Fenwick. The John J. Malone 52 fund will include three annual scholarships of $3,000 each.
A golf outing and other ways of remembering Malone remain possibilities.
Thies shared a particularly close relationship with Malone.
"I coached John in freshmen football and sophomore basketball," Thies said, "so I knew him a lot better than some of the other kids. We worked out at the same gym, FFC in Oak Park. He took basketball very seriously, but he also was very funny and personable."
After a reflective pause, Thies added: "John was just one of those guys everybody loved being around."