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Hoopsters had bigger battles

Prep Focus • Otho Lesure hopes to gain eligibility, but he's already lost so much
by: JIM CLARK, Otho Lesure, with father Otho Sr., had his petition for an extra year of eligibilty turned down by the Oregon School Activities Association. He could appeal but is not likely to play again for Roosevelt.

Otho Lesure, an all-league basketball player last season for Roosevelt, should be able to handle if it he cannot return to the court for the Roughriders.

He knows what it's like to lose something, or someone, he loves.

Lesure, a senior for the Riders last year, had his petition for an extra year of eligibility turned down last week by the Oregon School Activities Association. He could appeal, but it probably would rank as a major upset if Lesure got back in uniform for the PIL 5A team he helped lead to the state championship game in 2007.

'We have specific criteria that have to be met,' says Tom Welter, OSAA executive director.

Lesure lives near Roosevelt High and attends Open Meadow, an alternative school in North Portland. He fell behind at Roosevelt while privately grieving the deaths of four close relatives, one by one, over a period of about four years.

Lesure is very close to graduating. 'It was our thought that he should have taken what he needed at night schoool or in summer school and moved on,' Welter says.

Lesure is well respected at Open Meadow and Roosevelt.

'He's a strong person with a good heart,' Rider guard Cameron Jackson says. 'He's always looking to help out anybody who needs it.'

Says Roosevelt guard Titus Kolokolo: 'He's the nicest person you'll ever know.'

Life, however, has not always been good to Lesure, 18. He says his gradual spiral into depression began in spring 2001.

As a young boy, Lesure often stopped to visit his grandfather, John Hollinquest, on the way home from school. The two took fishing trips that Lesure still remembers with a smile.

'They were like second parents,' Otho Lesure Sr., says of the Hollinquests. 'They were there for him since Day One.'

Lesure was 11 when he visited his grandfather in the hospital and Hollinquest fell into a coma. Hollinquest developed pneumonia and suffered a massive stroke before dying at age 54.

About eight months later, Lesure lost his 81-year-old great-grandfather, who lived in Las Vegas and died of natural causes.

'I would always hold stuff in'

Just a few weeks into the eighth grade, Lesure received more bad news.

Joe Brown was the type of uncle who would drop everything to spend time with the young boy. Whether it was making something out of cereal boxes, basketball games in the street or carving pumpkins, Brown was more like a good friend than just an elder.

'Every time that I saw him or hung out with him, it was just the greatest experience,' Lesure says.

But one day, Brown passed out, went to the hospital and was diagnosed with diabetes. The doctors said that his blood sugar level was so high, they were surprised he could even walk. Stubbornly, however, Brown would not take his medication. A few months later, he died. He was 34.

The cumulative effect was hard on Lesure, then 13. He entered his freshman year at Roosevelt, but textbooks and class lessons were far from his mind. On the days that he wouldn't simply skip school, he clearly wasn't there mentally. He was failing classes and was falling into a depression.

'I just didn't want to deal with anybody,' he says.

His mother, Leslie Lesure, was shaken from the deaths, as well. It was her father, grandfather and brother who were gone, and now her eldest son was visibly troubled.

'I would always ask if he was OK, and he would always say 'Yeah,' ' she says.

Truth be told, he wasn't.

'I would always hold stuff in,' he says. 'I didn't want to make my mom worried or anything.'

Leslie Lesure says she often asked her son if he wanted to talk to a professional. He always refused. He notes that it's not easy for a teenager to tell his friends he can't hang out because he has to go to his therapist.

Finding peace

A few weeks into his sophomore year at Roosevelt, Lesure lost his grandmother, Ruby Hollinquest -almost two years to the day that Brown had died. Years of poor health - high blood pressure, diabetes and two heart attacks -got the best of her.

'That hit me hard,' Lesure says.

His problems at school continued, so his mother decided to send him to Open Meadow, which offers smaller classes and a different learning environment.

At first, Lesure didn't open up - rare for somebody whose report card always said that he talked too much in class.

Now, though, everyone tells him how much he has matured since arriving at Open Meadow, where he has an 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. school day and meets with advocate Cara VanGorder-Lasof every day for 30 minutes.

More important, he says he's found peace. In basketball, in family and in himself.

The Lesures' home has a memorial with the ashes of the loved ones they have lost. Everyone, including Otho, will sit and talk to the urns, making it feel as if the relatives aren't truly gone.

When Robert Key took over as Roosevelt boys basketball coach, people repeatedly told him, 'You've got to get Otho out to play.' Still living in the Roosevelt district, Lesure made the varsity team as a junior.

He says peer pressure got him to try out for the team.

'My friends would always come up to me and say that I am just wasting all this talent,' he says. 'They were, like, 'Man, you're better than me, and you aren't even playing.' '

Hero on the court

Lesure's game wasn't flashy, and he even tucked in his practice jersey.

'He's definitely a throwback,' Key says, laughing.

Last year, as a senior, Lesure became one of the top players in the city in just his second year of competition, averaging 11 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.

He earned all-PIL 5A league honors for the Riders, who made an incredible run to the state final before falling to undefeated North Eugene. But his greatest athletic moment came in a 69-63 overtime win over Jefferson in the final meeting between the teams.

Trailing by three points with seconds to go, the Riders got the ball to Lesure. He turned and hit a 3-pointer, sending the pivotal rivalry game into overtime, where Roosevelt prevailed.

The crowd began to chant its allegiance to the hero of the day -'O-tho! O-tho! O-tho!'

'I think I lost my voice for about three days after that,' Otho Lesure Sr. says.

Lesure hopes to play basketball in college; he wants to study business and open a barber shop.

Life isn't too bad for him now, even though he might not be able to play for Roosevelt again. Lesure has a good job at Fred Meyer. He's a role model to his little brother, Andre, who is a freshman in the Roosevelt basketball program, and he's become a poster boy for never giving up when life gets tough.

Lesure recently got a tattoo on his right bicep. It features praying hands, a dove, and the words 'Son of God.' He drew the design his junior year.

'I've always felt there's somebody upstairs, helping me out,' he says.