A Highland High School basketball star who was killed in a crash over the weekend was remembered today as a great player and a gifted leader. Eighteen-year-old Derrick Duff died Saturday on his way home from a spring break trip to Pismo Beach.
Duff helped propel the basketball team to one of its biggest wins of the year. He helped the team in a huge upset victory over Garces Memorial High School.
Last fall, there was a buzz at Highland about two new kids in town. "They were really tall. They looked really athletic. I couldn't wait to see them," said Elijah Baier.
Duff and his younger brother had moved from Texas to Bakersfield. "I remember the first day I saw him dunk. I was going crazy. I had never seen someone my age be able to do something like that," he continued.
The senior was six foot four inches tall. He became the team's top scorer and most valuable player.
"I had our announcer annouce him one game as the 'High Flying Slamma Jamma' because he was dunking the basketball all the time," said Coach Jeff Waldrip, Highland High School.
Duff was the kind of player who never gave up. No matter what the score, he played hard every game.
"He had a gift to inspire his teammates," he explained.
Duff led his underdog team during a big upset win over Garces. He was the star on the court, but didn't act like one off the court.
"From day one, he clicked with the kids. He loved to dance so everywhere he went he was dancing. If he came through the door, he was dancing. If we walked in the gym, he was dancing," said Waldrip.
Early Saturday morning, Duff and two friends were on their way home from Pismo Beach. "He was laying down in the back seat of the Jeep and he didn't have his seatbelt on," explained Waldrip.
"The driver apparently had fallen asleep and swerved and hit the guard rail and Derrick was ejected from the Jeep and other cars hit him. It's tragic," he continued.
California Highway Patrol officers say alcohol and drugs were not factors in the crash. "It was the first time that he had ever actually went somewhere without his brother and his mom," noted Waldrip.
As students returned to Highland Monday, Duff's teammates came together on the basketball court to remember him. "We got down to ten players this year and at the end we would always say ten strong and it was hard you know, him not being there and to be able to say that," he said.
Counselors and psychologists are available for Highland students affected by Duff's death. A memorial service for Duff will be held Thursday at 4:00 p.m. at Valley Bible Fellowship.