PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One by one, the speakers strode to the podium inside PSU’s Viking Pavilion and said similar things:
“A star athlete that shined on and off the court.” “I’ll always remember his smile.” “He was honest, hardworking, resilient.” “Make sure you put some respect on that man’s name.” “Deante’s legend will never die.”
Friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Deante Strickland, the 22-year-old student athlete who was working on his Master’s degree when he was shot to death August 2.
His sister, Tamena Strickland, is charged with his murder and with shooting other family members. She pleaded not guilty to 14 charges including murder and attempted murder with a firearm.
Hundreds came to the gathering to honor the young man who played college basketball for 2 years at Casper College in Wyoming before being recruited by Portland State University to play in his hometown.
Deante had also joined the PSU Viking football program just this past spring.
‘We started calling it Strick City’
Holland Woods, who is a point guard for the PSU basketball team, said Deante was “my best friend.” Woods was wearing Deante’s Number 11 jersey.
“He was always smiling, always joking, messing around, being a goof ball,” Woods told KOIN 6 News. “When I was having my worst days, when it was my best days, it’s like that never changed. He was always there for me in any situation and that smile could just brighten up a room.”
Woods was at a loss for words when he talked about being at a celebration of Deante’s life.
“It’s tough. Never in a million years would I have thought something like this would happen to him especially. So, it’s rough.”
Many friends, family and teammates sported shirts that read “Strick City” in his honor.
“Strick City, it’s a little spin off of Rip City, a Blazers, Portland thing,” Woods said. “He started playing extremely well, so we started calling it Strick City around here.”
Deante, he said, had a lifelong dream to be a pro basketball player. “He was going to pursue that no matter what people said.”
Woods said he knows what Deante would want.
“Just to basically live like Strick. Smile, keep it going, don’t, like, be down forever like this. He understands it’s sad but he wouldn’t want everyone to stop what they’re doing.”
Speakers at the memorial
Karen Barker, a grade school teacher and mentor, said Deante “became a man of his word, a man that you could trust and a man that had a bright future.”
Kitty Holden, who taught him math in middle school, said, “Deante had a gravitational force. We were drawn to him, so many of us in here put our energy into Deante — and he reflected it right back at us.”
“This kid is different,” said Steve Pyne, the head football coach at Central Catholic, said. “His attitude is infectious, his smile is contagious and nearly everyone is drawn to him.”
Canaan Chatman from Inner City Players said Deante overcame adversity. “I mean, he was all of 5-foot-7 with little limbs. That ain’t the best combination to be hooping. And yet he still managed that to go to college, still managed that in getting the scholarship, still managed that in coming home.”
He said the best thing people can do now is “use his story, use everything he brought to the table to make us go a little bit further as adults and as young people.”
Dan Russell, the head basketball coach at Casper College, wore Deante’s Number 11 jersey while he fought back tears during his remarks.
“Strick had a light that shined so bright and his smile and his energy was absolutely contagious,” Russell said.
And PSU Head Coach Barret Peery said that no matter where the team went in the country, “Strick was passionate about representing Portland. It meant something to have ‘Portland State’ on his chest. It really did.”
“I’ve had a really hard time being sad because I’ve felt so blessed to be a small piece in his life.”