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Amid St. Joe's basketball success, Justin Glover plays with a heavy heart

Justin Glover began a new pregame ritual this season. While his St. Joe’s teammates stretch their limbs, the sophomore point guard takes a moment to tend to his wounded spirit.

In a silent prayer, Glover remembers the mantra his mother always told him: Play your game and don’t worry about anything other than being your best.

Basketball has become part of the grieving process for Glover after the death of his mother, Delvina, in April from a pulmonary embolism.

“She’s always on my mind,” Glover said. “Basketball does help get my mind off the situation. But the loss is always going to hurt. It took a big piece of my heart away from me and my family."

Glover inherited his passion and aptitude for basketball from his father, Kevin, a former three-sport star at Turner-Carroll and all-conference baseball player at Canisius College who has been an assistant for the SUNY Buffalo State men’s basketball team for 15 years. His older brother, Jordan, played basketball for St. Joe’s and Buffalo State before returning to help coach the Marauders and is now in his first year on the coaching staff at Daemen College.

But Justin had a special bond with his mother.

“Justin and Delvina were the best of friends,” Kevin Glover said. “They looked alike. They talked alike. That was legitimately his best friend. I know both of my boys love me to death. But the love that my boys have for their mother is incomparable.”

Delvina’s death at age 44 was unexpected. Her recovery from rotator cuff surgery had progressed to allow her to watch Justin play in a local all-star game two days prior. On the morning of April 4, she collapsed on the floor while icing her shoulder. She was pronounced dead at 12:48 p.m.

Justin was in class at St. Joe’s when one his cousins relayed the tragic news on Instagram. He called his mother’s cellphone repeatedly, Kevin said, until he got the gut-wrenching confirmation when his aunt came to pick him up and take him to the hospital. Justin remembered that his aunt, Stephanie, picked him up from school when his grandmother died three years earlier.

“I was in shock when I first heard,” Justin said. “And when I found out it was real, I just broke down.”

Justin has dealt with the loss as well as a 15-year-old could, his father said.

“There are days when I come downstairs and I know he’s hurting,” Kevin said. “We try to talk about her every day, and mention the good things. Their relationship is one that I loved, that I cherished. And I know that’s what he still carries with him.”

Justin used to enjoy traveling to AAU basketball tournaments with his mother. Playing in the first Elite Youth Basketball League session with his Albany City Rocks team about three weeks after his mother’s death was a big step in the healing process.

“That helped him a great deal,” Kevin said. “Just being back on the court, surrounded by his friends, his teammates, the coaching staff and everything. It allowed him to release any tension, any anxiety, any anger that he may have had.”

Justin’s teammates at St. Joe’s were unsure how to act around him at first, coach Gabe Michael said.

“Once Justin kind of opened up to them, they embraced him and wanted to help with the healing,” Michael said.

During a preseason practice, the Marauders gathered in the middle of the gym to present Justin a gift. He opened the box to find a pair of sneakers custom designed by Dakota Wiley, one of Michaels’ former players at Williamsville South.

The shoes were painted purple, Delvina’s favorite color, with her face on the left toe, and on the right, an inscription, God gives his strongest soldiers his toughest battles.

“Those are fire,” one teammate said. “I don’t know if you can wear those, though.”

Glover was touched by Wiley’s gesture and said, “These mean a lot to me. I know my mom meant so much to me and she will always be with me, no matter what. And I know if she could see these right now, she would love these. She’d be jumping up and down.”

“They will be worn in a big-time game,” Glover said.

St. Joe’s has had plenty of big games this season. The Marauders are off to an 11-3 start, ranked No. 4 among large schools in Western New York, and No. 9 in the state in Class A. They play at O’Hara on Wednesday before the big rivalry game Saturday at Canisius.

With leadership abilities that belie his age and physical stature, the 5-foot-8-inch Glover has played a key part in St. Joe’s returning to prominence over the past two seasons.

In his second year as the starting point guard, Glover is averaging 10.3 points and 3.4 assists. But it’s Glover’s ability to lead the team on both ends of the floor that has been crucial to the Marauders’ success.

“He has a great feel for the game,” Michael said. “With his father and his brother both being coaches, he has no choice but to be a smart basketball player.”

While they have different playing styles, Glover’s basketball IQ is comparable to former Williamsville South star point guard Greg Dolan’s, Michael said.

“In terms of leadership and work ethic, they are almost identical,” he added.

Glover commands a St. Joe’s offense with three double-figure scorers: Jaden Slaughter (19.3 points per game), senior Daesean Ashley (13.6 ppg) and sophomore Josh Haskell (13.1 ppg).

“Justin has a lot of responsibility,” Michael said. “He has a lot of talent around him. And they will start to question Justin if he’s not getting them the ball.”

Glover also has the scoring ability to take over the game when needed. He’s played well enough on the AAU circuit to receive recruiting interest from Siena, Niagara and Colgate.

Emulating his father and brother in recruiting local talent, Glover helped persuade two longtime AAU teammates to join him at St. Joe’s. Slaughter, who previously attended City Honors, and Haskell, from Franklinville, are both returning All-Western New York honorable mentions whose arrival has made a big impact for the Marauders.

“They are both my brothers,” Glover said. “I’ve known them since I was young and we are going through this journey together. I am going to make sure they are doing the right things on and off the court. And I am going to push them to their highest limits.”

“Justin accepting them made everyone accept them,” Michael said. “They’ve really come together as a group. They love each other and they care about each other.”

As impressed as he is with Glover’s composure on the court, Michael marveled at how he has responded to tragedy.

“He’s handled it way more maturely than I ever would have,” Michael said.

Kevin Glover said grief has produced growth in his youngest son.

“I’ve noticed a change in his maturity as a result of it,” Kevin said. “It’s tough for a 15-year-old to lose someone that close to you and get back in the classroom and on the court, to refocus and rededicate yourself. Not having your mom at a game now, or on the road traveling during AAU season, those are things we continue to seek help with finding different ways to cope.

“But we have a great support system. The school administration and the social work staff have kept him engaged. It’s been good to have this season come around. It seemed like it would never get here. I was praying for the season to come, so that he can have something that will consistently take his mind away from what’s going on, as much as he can.”

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