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West Catholic honors Akyra Murray's life

It's the screen saver on Alex Murray's phone. A picture of a brother with his arm around his younger sister's shoulder.

It's the screen saver on Alex Murray's phone.

A picture of a brother with his arm around his younger sister's shoulder.

A photo of two athletes.

One in a red sweatshirt. The other wearing No. 20 - the number they both proudly sported during their time at West Catholic.

It was halftime of Akyra Murray's basketball game - one her brother had flown up to see from Florida, where he attended college - to surprise her. She had only eight points after 16 minutes, unusual for the offensive powerhouse, and her Burrs were down at halftime.

It wasn't what he had grown accustom to seeing.

So Alex had a few bits of advice for her, and Akyra ended with 40 points.

"They had a full house that night," he said proudly. "She showed everyone she meant business."

The moment is Alex's favorite of his sister on that basketball court. And now, no player from West Catholic will step on that floor wearing No. 20 again as the Burrs on Tuesday dedicated that game to Akyra, and presented her family with her jersey.

Six months after Murray's death in the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, remembering the moments of her on that basketball court seemed like an appropriate way to demonstrate the enormous impact the 18-year-old had on West Catholic.

"There was no way that we could continue on as a team or a program without doing something that really commemorated the effect she had on our program," fourth-year coach Beulah Osueke said.

Teammate Morgan Kennedy's favorite memory is of Murray's 1,000th point, a play on which she assisted when she tipped Akyra the ball on the opening play of the game.

Akyra's mother, Natalie, remembers that game well, too.

"She was hitting three-pointers, doing things she normally didn't do," Natalie said, smiling. "Coach was on the sideline saying, 'Akyra, Akyra,' and she was just like, 'I got it, Coach.' She was phenomenal that day."

That was Jan. 18.

Murray finished her career with 1,199 points and a scholarship to play at Mercyhurst. She is one of only 12 basketball players at the school to score more than 1,000 and the third female.

"It is an honor to watch them play. I'm really, really proud of these girls and what they are doing tonight," Natalie said Tuesday of the 2-1 Burrs. "I can see [Akyra] on the sidelines, on the court with them. I can definitely see that. I can feel her."

Kennedy feels her all the time.

A captain, the senior invokes Murray whenever she isn't sure in which direction to take the team.

"What would Akyra do?" has become her mantra.

Osueke feels her, too, as she carries Murray's navy blue road jersey with her in her backpack. She taps it every once in a while - during scrimmages and games - as a reminder, as an "I wish you were here."

A sentiment her brother shares.

"I miss her laugh, her smile, her jokes," Alex said. "She was me. We talked the same, walked the same, everything. Her voice was just a little bit lighter."

Another thing they have in common? Helping lead their squads to victory, as Alex was a member of the school's successful football team.

Together, Murray and Osueke accomplished things the girls' basketball program never expected - winning two District 12 championships and reaching the state tournament for the first time.

It was Murray's determination, leadership, and grit that got them there, a fact Osueke stressed about a player who strove for excellence but still "never was content."

"I feel like what we are doing is not just for our team, but really it is a statement for the community and a statement for black girls," Osueke said. "I just think that from the jump we are told that we don't matter or don't matter as much. Our program being successful will communicate to young girls that they matter, and that there is something for them to aspire to in high school and beyond."

Akyra mattered.

You could see it as Osueke and Kennedy shared long embraces with the Murray family at halftime Tuesday.

You could hear it in the words of assistant coach Meredith Devinney during the presentation.

The long-sleeve warm-ups - red because it was her favorite color - emblazoned with "AM 20" and "Play 4 Akyra" said it, too.

Akyra mattered.

The Burrs know it. And they want to make sure everyone else does, too.