The Gray Collegiate Academy basketball team wins the 2A Boys State Championship on March 2. 

Gray Collegiate Academy basketball teammates refer to themselves as a brotherhood, and attribute their success to their closeness.

Tiquan Taylor was shot and killed while trying to sell his PlayStation. His family and friends wore T-shirts with his picture to the state championship game in his honor.

GCA partnered with SportClips for an even they called “Cut Your Hair, Cut the Violence” in support of the late Tiquan Taylor.

The Gray Collegiate Academy basketball team was on track to the program’s best season in their history – until a horrific tragedy shifted their focus to something bigger than basketball.

Before the tragedy, Coach Dion Bethea said he had never been so confident about one of his teams going into a season.

“I always felt like there was only one team that could beat us, and that’s us beating ourselves,” Bethea said.

The excitement of the historic season halted when Tiquan Taylor, a member of the Gray Collegiate basketball team, was shot and killed on Feb. 25, just a week before the championship game.

“Losing a student athlete is the most difficult, anytime you lose a student it’s difficult,” said Gray Principal Brian Newsome. “We’re preparing all weekend, the excitement from winning the game on Saturday, playing for our first state championship as a school, the first time a charter school has played for the basketball state championship — so we had a lot of positives, and then this really hit us hard.”

Richland County Sheriff’s Department arrested  16-year-old Desmond Marquise Cromer in connection with Taylor’s shooting. Taylor was attempting to sell his PlayStation video game console to Cromer when the attack took place.

Before the shooting, there was  friendly competition between teammates and a whole lot of wins, which made Gray a force to be reckoned with. They exceeded the capabilities of last year’s team, which lost in the semi-finals to Keenan High School. Their word to describe it? Brotherhood.

“Last year we had separation;  we didn’t have that bond like we have this year,” Juwan Gary said. This year’s like a brotherhood- every time, everywhere, we bonded together.”

Their bond, skills and confidence carried them all the way to the state championship for the first time in program history.

Taylor’s death cast a shadow over the team, but the players tried to transformed it into light.

In response to this monumental loss, Newsome met with school staff to find a way to raise awareness on the issue of gun violence. They wanted to show an outward display of unity and decided to shave their heads for an event called “Cut Your Hair, Cut the Violence.”

Hairdressers from Sportclips shaved the heads of several students, teachers and coaches in the GCA gym, just before the pep rally for Friday’s state championship game.

Taylor’s family attended the event, sporting T-shirts with his picture displayed on the front. Coach Bethea introduced Taylor’s  mother to the student body and reassured her that she would always be family at Gray. She held back tears as the basketball team embraced her in the middle of the gym, and the student body shouted words of encouragement and support.

Following the pep rally, the focus was again shifted to the late student-athlete. The people filling the gym moved onto GCA’s lawn and released balloons into the sky in honor of Taylor.

Just four hours later, the Class 2A Boys state championship game tipped off at Colonial Life Arena on March 2. It was a close game against Carver’s Bay. Gray led 43-42 entering the fourth quarter, but held the Bears to just 3 points in those final eight minutes. At the sound of the buzzer, Gray secured the state title with a final score of 58-45. Their student section erupted in chants of “LLT” — Long Live Tiquan.

Tommy Bruner led Gray in scoring with 20 points and felt that the win spoke volumes about the school and its students.

“It just means a lot,” Bruner said. “I know Ty’s proud of us, I know our family’s proud of us, and we just wanted to leave it all out for the ones that are still living and the ones that are passed.”

Tiquan Taylor was laid to rest Saturday afternoon following Friday’s championship win.