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Memorial service for basketball player who died celebrates his life

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UT student Lora Sarich, left, is comforted by Brie Henning, a UT swimmer, during yesterday's memorial service in Savage Hall.

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Soft piano music filled the University of Toledo's Savage Hall as the scoreboard's video screens glowed with "3" - the jersey number of 21-year-old Haris Charalambous.

About 750 people were at the cavernous facility yesterday to attend a memorial service for the popular basketball player from Manchester, England, who died Monday from a heart condition while participating with teammates in conditioning drills for the sport he loved.

Teammates wore solemn expressions as they walked slowly onto the basketball court shortly after noon. Some dressed in suits and ties, others in striped polo shirts with baggy pants and white sneakers.

The dozen players took their seats on a stage at center court with picture stands holding game-day photos of Mr. Charalambous snatching rebounds, blocking defenders, and taking jump shots. His home and away game jerseys hung nearby. The ceremony was led by teammates, coaches, and UT officials.

"We've called it a memorial, but it's also a part celebration," said UT Athletic Director Mike O'Brien, as he fought to hold back tears. "Haris always had a smile on his face, and he'd want us to smile as well."

A recurring theme was the magic of Mr. Charalambous' personality, and how friendly and admired he was throughout campus - beyond just the brotherhood of the UT basketball courts where he struggled against recurring injuries to fulfill his dreams.

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Rocket basketball players, from left, Florentino Valencia, Anthony Byrd, and Jerrah Young reflect on the life of teammate Haris Charalambous, who died Monday of a heart condition at age 21.

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"This has nothing to do about being a basketball player," said Stan Joplin, UT's basketball coach. "The reason why a lot of students are here today is because they know what type of person he is."

UT seniors Mandy McKee and Alex Vargo, who lived in the same dorm as Mr. Charalambous during freshman year, were among those in attendance.

"He was extremely friendly, and never had a bad word to say about anybody," Miss McKee recalled. "He was extremely upbeat, and always in a good mood."

Others who spoke at the ceremony included UT President Lloyd Jacobs; the Rev. Aristotle Damaskos, of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, where Mr. Charalambous attended church; Jon Stone, his high school coach from The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., along with friends and UT students Larry Morris and Lora Sarich and teammate Florentino "Tino" Valencia.

"Farewell, my brother. I will meet you on the court on the other side," Mr. Valencia said, as some in the audience wiped away tears.

The ceremony concluded after about 45 minutes. Some in the audience dispersed to a reception in the lobby; others walked from the arena along a leaf-covered sidewalk under the overcast fall sky.

UT senior Alisha Davis passed the running track where Mr. Charalambous collapsed two days earlier.

The 22-year-old said she attended the athlete's memorial out of a sense of responsibility.

"I didn't know him personally," Miss Davis said. "But he is a student at the university, and a family member nonetheless."

University officials are scheduled to accompany Mr. Charalambous' body to his home in England tomorrow.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com or

419-724-6050.

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