MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — This is a hard tale to tell and we are not the first to tell it.
It is the story that West Virginia’s new graduate transfer point guard from Old Dominion, Malik Curry, brings with him. It is a story that once ate away at him so deeply that he wouldn’t talk about it for almost a decade, even with his family, and it is a story that still haunts him today but that, it seems, he has come to accept and live with.
It is the story of his father, Herman, who his closest friends called Sam, and how he was gunned down before a crowd of young soccer players, their friends and parents, at a soccer tournament he had founded and had run for 16 years in Wilmington, Delaware.
Had it happened a few minutes later, he would have been there as would his brother, Omar, and mother, Nadine, who had left the park to return home to pick up Malik and Omar, who were to play later.
“My Mom left the park to come pick us up just before” the shooting, Malik said. “God protected my Mom that day. Losing her, too, would have been so much worse.”
It was July 8, 2012, a day that changed so many lives and that turned into a national story.
Malik was 13 at the time, living a happy life that had just turned teenaged, a kid who had inherited his dad’s athletic ability and was learning right from wrong by observing him and his mother.
What Sam Curry was going to do was testify against Otis Phillips in the 2008 death of Christopher Palmer, a murder he had witnessed. Philips, however, had disappeared and for four years had been in hiding.
Then, on July 8 at that Marcus Garvey Soccer Tournament, Sam Curry took the microphone to address the hundreds gathered when, according to a story put out by Old Dominion just before the end of this season, Otis and Jeffrey Phillips, who are not related, came out of the crowd. Otis tapped Sam Curry on the shoulder and, as Sam turned around, he told him he was going to die.
He then shot Sam Curry three times in the chest.
This is how the scene was described in the story put out by ODU:
Jeffrey Phillips then shot into the crowd as they were trying to reach a getaway car and killed 16-year-old soccer player Alexander Kamara. He was less than two months away from his junior year in high school.
Several people in the crowd pulled out guns and returned fire.
Sheldon Ogle, who was driving the getaway car, was shot and killed. Jeffrey Phillips was also wounded and eventually found by police along with Otis Phillips hiding in a nearby back yard.
Shortly after the shooting Nadine pulled into the parking with her two sons and saw the flashing lights of police cars and the resultant chaos brought about by the shootings.
Malik would later see his dad in his hospital room, still alive.
“I touched his hand and it felt so cold,” he said in the story.
It had been a close-knit family, Sam and Nadine and their six children, Sam coaching them in soccer and basketball.
At 13, Malik Curry’s life changed completely. He was described as being eaten up with anger, grief and disbelief, feelings that would hang with him throughout what were his formative years. He rebelled against authority but managed to do well in school to keep himself eligible for basketball, his one escape and the place where all that pent up emotion was channeled.
His family and the church offered support through the next few years as the legal proceedings, that would wind up giving Otis Phillips the death penalty and Jeff life in prison, although Delaware has now done away with the death penalty, meaning Otis will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Malik had a prison of his own, of course, as he dealt with the loss of his father.
“My Dad, he was just a great person,” Malik was quoted as saying. “He was the type of guy who, if we had a basketball game, would pick up the whole team and take them to the game. A lot of kids he coached didn’t have their dads in their lives. He made sure to take care of them.
“He loved kids. He just wanted the best for every kid he knew. That’s all he wanted.”
Malik and brother, Omar, had anger problems. Omar, who had a birthday two days after his dad’s murder, had to transfer high schools because of problems at school. Malik struggled to get along, especially with authority figures.
“I had therapy all through middle school and high school, but it never really helped me out,” he said. “I never understood talking to someone who hasn’t been through what I went through.”
At 16, Malik left Wilmington to attend school and play basketball at Advanced Prep International School in Dallas, but the courses he took there were not accepted by the NCAA. That led him to transfer to Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut, where he graduated, but not until midyear, forcing him to attend junior college.
At Palm Beach State in Florida, he was a second-team All-American and made the Dean’s List while being recruited by ODU, which finally gave him stability in life as well as his own child, Malakai. One of the first things he did with his son was take him to visit his father’s grave.
“My dad, he was the perfect father,” he said. “I learned so much about being a dad from watching my parents. I know I have to be the same role model for my son.”
Now, Malik Curry is on the move again, coming to WVU to play for Bob Huggins, a man who has built his career helping kids like Curry, good kids with troubled backgrounds and leading them through the minefield of life that they had to negotiate to succeed.