Emmanuel Omogbo plays after losing parents, 2 relatives in fire

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The recipient of the game ball was an easy choice: Colorado State junior Emmanuel Omogbo, after scoring one point in 10 heavy-hearted minutes.

Omogbo gave the Rams an emotional lift in an 83-79 win over Air Force on Wednesday night, a day after losing his parents and two young relatives in a house fire.

After the game, the team huddled together in the locker room and broke down.

"Most gallant effort I ever saw," Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said, wiping away tears. "We really wanted to win that game so we could give him a winning ball."

Fire officials in Maryland said Caroline and Samson Omogbo died at the scene in a blaze early Tuesday in Chillum. His sister's 2-year-old twins were taken to a hospital, where they died.

Omogbo was on the court at Clune Arena about an hour before the game to shoot a few warm-up jumpers and dribble back and forth along the half-court line. At his request, there was no moment of silence.

Omogbo, 20, wasn't in the starting lineup for the first time this season. He was put in with 15:10 remaining in the first half.

He spent most of the second half sitting at the end of the bench, his hands on his chin. The moment finally caught up to him, his teammates said.

"He was never right in the ballgame, he just wasn't right," Eustachy said. "He was holding everything in."

His teammates could sense it, too.

"He's going through a lot," forward Tiel Daniels said. "He's so strong. We're trying to give him all the support we can.

"We gave him the game ball, and he broke down. Everybody broke down. That was one of those moments you can't hold back."

Eustachy said he and an assistant coach will fly back to Maryland with Omogbo for the funeral.

Omogbo's junior college coach, Steve Green of South Plains College, drove 470 miles from Levelland, Texas, to be at Wednesday night's game.

"I came to shootaround and visited with Emmanuel. It [hadn't] hit him yet," Green told The Coloradoan. "He said to me that he was happy that his parents lived a full life and mentioned how his parents were getting up there in age.

"I said, 'Your dad was 62, your mom was 55. I'm 61.' It's OK to be sad, you know?"

Green also signed the game ball before returning home Wednesday night.

"There's nothing you can say to someone in a situation like this," Green told The Coloradoan. "Nothing you can do. Because you don't know what it's like to be going through what he's going through right now. All you can do is be there. I mean, really be there. Because you don't know. None of us do. Emmanuel will let us know if or when he needs something, and when that time comes, we need to be there."

Eustachy said earlier in a statement: "This is absolutely heartbreaking for Emmanuel, his family and for all of us that know him. There are no words to describe how it felt to hear this terrible news. They were a beautiful family that I enjoyed getting to know. The entire Colorado State men's basketball team, athletic program and university will be there to support and help Emmanuel in any way we can through this incredibly tough time in his life."

Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker said in a statement that there has been "overwhelming concern and offers of support" for Omogbo and his family.

"Our focus remains on providing the right support around Emmanuel and helping him make decisions that are best for him and his family," Parker said.

The school set up a GoFundMe account on Wednesday to assist Omogbo with expenses. In seven hours, the account already had raised $26,768 from 621 people.

Omogbo is allowed to keep the funds raised for him, so long as that money goes directly to costs related to the tragedy, including medical or funeral costs, Colorado State spokesman Paul Kirk said. Per NCAA rules, Omogbo won't be able to keep funds that are in excess of the approved costs. That additional money must be donated to charity.

Born in Nigeria, Omogbo grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland. He attended South Plains College in Texas the previous two seasons before joining the Rams. He was averaging 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game for Colorado State.

"Our thoughts and our prayers are with him and his family," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "For that young man to do what he did today, I can't even imagine what he's going through. That just shows what little this means and what the bigger picture is. I can't imagine what he suffered, and our thoughts and prayers go with him."

ESPN's Darren Rovell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.