In the short time since he learned that incoming recruit Michael Haynes had been shot and killed in Chicago on Thursday night, Iona coach Tim Cluess can't stop dwelling on one aspect of the tragedy.
Cluess wonders what would have happened if Haynes had been able to avoid trouble for a few more weeks and make it to Iona in time for the start of fall quarter on Aug. 28.
"That's the toughest part," Cluess said. "You know the kid's life would have turned out so differently and this never would have occurred. He had a bright future. He couldn't wait to get out here, get started on a new life and get away from a neighborhood he knew was really dangerous.
"He was so happy about the opportunity and so excited about the new start. When you talked to him, he wasn't a typical kid you recruit where you have to drag words out of him. You could hear the excitement in his voice."
Haynes, 22, was shot in the wrist, chest and lower back while trying to break up a fight over a stolen necklace near his grandmother's home in the Far South Side of Chicago. One of Haynes' mentors initially told Cluess he thought the 6-foot-7 forward would live through his injuries because he had the strength to walk from the car that brought him to the hospital to a wheelchair, but Haynes died on the operating table soon afterward.
The news was crushing to Cluess because he saw so much potential in Haynes both as a player and a person.
Cluess and his staff first watched Haynes play at a junior college showcase event in Las Vegas last summer. They began recruiting him immediately because they were so impressed with the energy he played with, his athleticism and his infectious enthusiasm.
"He was one of those kids you wanted to coach because he was a different personality," Cluess said. "He wanted better in his life, and it wasn't just about basketball. He wanted to be mentored, he wanted someone who was going to care about him and he wanted to be in a family atmosphere."
Haynes' mother died when he was young and his father wasn't in his life, so he lived with his grandmother in Chicago. He originally signed with UTEP after a year of prep school at Heat Academy in 2010, but he never played there, enrolling instead at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa.
In his lone season at Indian Hills last year, Haynes averaged 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds and showed a knack for defending multiple positions and finishing in transition. Cluess hopes to do something to honor Haynes' memory, but he hasn't had time to even consider the possibilities just yet.
"He was excited about the opportunity to play Division I basketball, to get his degree and to start a new life, really," Cluess said. "That's what hurts most. Basketball has nothing to do with it. He was a great young man, and to lose a life like that at such a young age, it's a terrible waste."