RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- For four years, Justin Tillman brought Rams Nation to its feet at the Siegel Center, and now VCU is rallying around Tillman during one of the most difficult times of his life. Tillman’s father, John, passed away from complications from coronavirus this past Saturday.
"When it really hits home, it hits your family, it hits our VCU basketball family, man, it really knocked a couple of us over," said Rams' head coach Mike Rhoades.
Tillman, who currently plays professional basketball in Israel, returned home to Detroit, Michigan, where both of his parents were in the hospital on ventilators as a result of COVID-19, before his father's death this past weekend. Because of the contagious nature of the virus, Tillman had to remain home without visiting his ill loved ones.
"Both of his parents are at the hospital and he's sitting at his house," Rhoades said. "All he can do is call the hospital and try to get feedback from a nurse or from a doctor."
Team and family can be synonymous, and in this case, it’s showing. Tillman maybe by himself in Michigan, but his former coaches and teammates have embraced him, even if not in person.
“Just letting him know I’m here if you want to talk,” said former VCU guard and Tillman’s old teammate Jonathan Williams. “If you wanna cry, whatever, how you feel, just talk to me whenever you’re ready.”
"He's by himself in Detroit, making sure he's doing his end of it," added Rhoades. "It's tough, but there are a lot of people around here and his VCU family trying to help him."
Rhoades has spoken with Tillman every day since he’s returned and his parents have been sick. He also has his own story of loss, as his father died 11 years ago, an experience he’s shared with his former player.
"There are a lot of people around you that love you and care about. My brother and sister and I and my mom, we fed off of that, of the care of others. How frustrated and upset we were and how bad we were hurting, it was other people that lifted us when we needed it. I told Justin the same thing. Let us help you, let us lift you, let us get you through this together."
Right now, those who played with Tillman, along with many who watched him at VCU, are doing what they can to help get him through one of life's most trying times.
"Let him know that 'your pops loved you no matter what.' He's proud of what you did," said Williams. "Whatever stuff you learned from him, he taught you, all type of stuff, just carry that with you."
“There’s no playbook for that,” Rhoades noted. “But what we can all do is just lend our hand to him, help him as much as we can. I’m going to continue to talk with him every day and talk him through this.”
Tillman was one of the better big men to wear the black and gold. A forward and center from 2014-2018, he ranks second on VCU's all-time career field goal percentage list, third in rebounds and tenth in blocks.
The former Ram’s mother remains hospitalized. To learn more about how you can help the Tillmans, click here.
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