CINCINNATI — Lauren Hill’s gray, metal casket was wheeled into the 10,000-seat basketball arena and placed at the spot where she made her first basket only five months ago.
No more perfect place to remember her.
Hill, the 19-year-old college basketball player, was remembered Monday with her own music and words in the arena where she had one of her greatest moments.
A brief life, fully lived.
Hill died Friday from a brain tumor that had been growing inside of her for more than a year. The Mount St. Joseph freshman devoted her final year to playing basketball, raising money for cancer research, and inspiring others.
She’s still doing that part.
“She made you think: What am I doing with my life?” said Lexy Saraswate, 19, a Xavier student who volunteered to work at the memorial service. “How can I be a better person?”
Hill’s gray, metal casket was brought by a hearse to Xavier’s Cintas Center, where she made a left-handed layup to open a Division III game on Nov. 2.
The public was invited to file past the closed casket in an upstairs conference room. A spray of white, pink and purple roses rested atop it.
Family photos flanked the casket, along with a photo of her in a cape and a quote from actor Christopher Reeve: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Then the casket was taken down to the arena for the hour-long memorial, resting on the spot of her famous layup. The backboard and basket were off to the side, with the attached game clock and shot clock set to 22 — her number.
Coach Dan Benjamin gently kissed her gray No. 22 jersey before stretching it over the casket. Former teammates sniffled as they sat in folding chairs on the floor. A few thousand people stood silently in the stands.
All along, Hill insisted that it wasn’t about only the one layup. Or one game. Or one life, even. She tried to make her final year about everyone else.
“Just her courage,” said Saraswate, who attended the game in November and cried. “I felt that was the thing: What do you do when you’re staring death in the face? She set a goal for herself and accomplished it, even surpassed it. She’s an inspiration.”
Music from her iPod was played at the start of the memorial. The second song on her playlist: James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend.”
There was video of her layup only 17 seconds into Mount St. Joseph’s 66-55 win against Hiram College in the season-opening game that was moved up to Nov. 2 because of her declining condition.
One of her favorites — Katy Perry’s “Roar” — was chosen to end the memorial.
Hill tried to make the last months of her life about helping and inspiring other people. Through a nonprofit foundation, she helped to raise roughly $1.5 million for research into pediatric cancer. Shortly before she died, she set a goal of raising $2.2 million — matching her uniform number.
The fundraising campaign will continue through the school and the foundation. Hill will be buried on Wednesday following a private service for family and friends.
Hill was a high school senior in nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana, when she started having dizzy spells. Tests found the inoperable brain tumor. She decided to attend college anyway, hoping to live long enough to get into a game.
The NCAA recognized her condition and allowed the school to move up the opener. The great interest in the game prompted Xavier to host it.
The arena was packed for the game, which started with a set play to get her a left-handed layup. She also made a right-handed layup late in the game. Each time, there was another roar followed by more goose bumps and tears.
She played in four games overall, scoring 10 points, before she was too weak to continue.
Before the season started, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association voted her the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award, which is normally awarded at the Final Four. The honor was noted again at the women’s Final Four a week ago.
She did a satellite interview for “The View” a few weeks ago to talk about her condition. In an interview with the WCPO crew that set up the remote for that interview, Hill was asked how she’d like people to remember her when she’s gone.
“She was a hero and she showed cancer who’s boss,” Hill said.
This article was written by Joe Kay from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.