During a day more than a decade ago that remains etched in his mind, young Trajan Wesley and his surviving family faced the worst.
On March 11, 2007, when Trajan was just 6 years old, Monica Necole Wesley succumbed to cancer.
Ten years to the day, on March 11, 2017, Wesley’s team from Houston won a basketball state championship in the highest classification of Texas high school sports.
A few months later, having been reared by a devoted dad who once coached him, the point guard from Cypress Falls High pledged to sign with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and play for the Ragin’ Cajuns starting in the 2018-19 season.
On both of these recent occasions, the emotion was overwhelming.
“When I committed,” Wesley said, “I was crying a lot — because I was just sad that she couldn’t be here, you know, to watch me do something that she always dreamed of me doing.
“But I know she’s up there in a better place watching down on me.”
Monica Wesley — 32 years old at the time of her death, as the headstone pictured atop Trajan Wesley’s Twitter account shows — was a teacher.
“She would feel really happy,” Wesley said of UL’s scholarship offer, “because it was something she wanted for me since the day I was born: a free education.
“That’s a blessing not a lot of people can get.”
Trajan — Tra for short — recalls the day like it was last week.
He was at his paternal grandmother’s house when his father,Donald Wesley, arrived to deliver the news of his mom’s passing.
“That was a really difficult time in our lives,” said Donald Wesley, who also has an older son, Jhealan, “because you have everything in life — a happy family, job, health, everything you ask for — and all of a sudden you’re hit with that.”
Donald Wesley, also an educator, now is an assistant principal at his high school alma mater, Navasota High near College Station, Texas.
“I believe in God,” Donald Wesley said. “I knew He had a plan for us.”
The elder Wesley just wasn’t sure what it was.
He simply knew he had two boys under wing, and — with the support of extended family — Trajan and Jhealan were all that mattered.
“My main focus,” Donald Wesley said, “was to be there for them as much as possible, at all costs.”
Even if it meant eventually transitioning away from coaching.
What Trajan Wesley says now speaks volumes to a job well done.
“Losing a parent at a young age and having two kids, you’ve got to step up,” the Cajun commit said. “You’ve got to play both roles.
“But he did a great job raising me and my brother. I love him to death, man. Without him, I wouldn’t be the person I (am) today.”
For 10 seasons, Donald Wesley was the head basketball coach at Navasota High — the same school where he played on an undefeated Texas state-title team during an undefeated hoops season way back when.
He of course coached up his kids, too, as youngsters before they went to their own high schools.
“So Tra has always been around athletes,” said Donald Wesley, who recalls his and Monica’s youngest showing his competitive side when he was as young as 4.
“He was very talented. When he’d be out on the floor, his mom was always there, and he could hear, ‘Go Tra.’ So that seemed like it just drove him to compete even harder.
“I assumed,” Donald Wesley added, “when she passed he wanted to continue that.”
“Being a basketball coach, being in the gym, they were always with me,” Donald Wesley said of Trajan and Jhealan, who spent time playing for NCAA Division III Concordia University in Texas.
“So his (Trajan’s) skill set is unbelievable. You really don’t know if he’s right-handed or left-handed because he can finish with both hands.”
Trajan plays, Donald suggested, with the same sort of resolve he needed to deal with his mother Monica’s death.
“Kids are so resilient. And he’s so strong — always has been,” Donald Wesley said. “That’s what impresses me the most about him.”
As Trajan got older, however, Donald Wesley said, he’d “have a hard time when I’d get on him and coach him hard.”
Jhealan, Donald suggested, could easily deal with father in one corner, coach in the other.
Trajan, not so much.
“When it came to Tra,” Donald Wesley said, “his feelings were hurt when I’d get on him — because he couldn’t separate.”
'A COMPLETE PLAYER'
Donald Wesley, who remarried a few years after Monica died, knew then that somebody else would have to coach the promising point going forward.
He stepped down from his post as Navasota’s coach in 2010, choosing to make Trajan and Jhealan the center of his personal attention and administrative work his professional priority.
Still, the coach in Donald Wesley can’t help himself from — when asked — breaking down Trajan’s game.
He describes an unselfish pure point who makes teammates better, but also one who can create off the dribble, blow by his man and put the ball in the basket.
“I think Tra is a complete player for his size,” Wesley said of the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder.
“He has so much energy and intensity, so competitive, and yet he keeps his composure. He can score the basketball at will on all levels. He can go get you 30 (points), or he can get you 10 assists.”
But, the proud papa hastens to add, “it ain’t about him.”
On a Saturday last March at the Alamodome in San Antonio, it was about Monica much more than Trajan Wesley.
Cypress Falls’ trip to the Texas 6A state-title game wasn't easy. It included a semifinal-round win over highly regarded Dallas Skyline High that went to triple-overtime.
"It was just one obstacle after another,” Donald Wesley said.
“But the final outcome — I don’t have the words to describe the feeling to see him be able to achieve such a goal. … The whole ride was unbelievable.”
Cy Falls beat Wagner High, from the San Antonio area, 63-57 in the championship game.
Wesley had 20 points in the victory, including 15 in the fourth quarter.
He thought of his mom the whole time.
“It really meant a lot, because it was the 10th anniversary that she’s been gone,” Wesley said. “Knowing that she couldn’t be there was really hurtful to me. And my teammates knew that.
“So that made them want it even more — not just to do it for them, but just to do it for me and my mom. I thought that was really cool of my teammates and coaches, to really just support me through everything.
“I was playing with a lot of emotion,” Wesley added. “But I was trying not to let it get the best of me. I had to go out there and win the game, you know?”
Donald Wesley firmly believes it was all in “God’s plan.”
“If you look back through the journey,” Trajan’s father said, “it seemed like He set the stage for Tra to accomplish that.”
'EACH AND EVERY DAY'
Trajan Wesley’s first college scholarship offer came between his freshman and sophomore seasons, from Southland Conference-member Sam Houston State.
Pressure to live up?
“It kind of makes you want to work harder and get more offers,” Wesley said.
Those came pouring in earlier this year, first from Lamar and later fellow Southland-member Abilene Christian.
San Diego of the West Coast Conference made an offer, and — on Aug. 1 — so did UL of the Sun Belt Conference.
Two days later, Wesley said yes to the Cajuns — a decision that remains non-binding until formalized with the signing of a National Letter of Intent, which can happen as early as November.
It was an easy call for Trajan, his father said, because “ultimately it’s what best for him — the opportunity to achieve what he wants to achieve in life.”
A quality college education. A chance to compete on a high NCAA level. An opportunity to play professionally.
Wesley feels he can get all of that with the Cajuns, who started recruiting him at the end of his sophomore year, before he transferred from Cypress Woods High to Cypress Falls.
Cajuns assistant coach Josten Crow has been UL’s primary recruiter of Wesley. The offer was made after Cajuns head coach Bob Marlin traveled to Texas earlier this year to watch Wesley play.
One of UL’s pitch points was that it produced NBA lottery pick Elfrid Payton, now a point guard with the Orlando Magic.
“It meant a lot,” Wesley said.
“Coach Marlin talked to me (about) how much Elfrid Payton developed, and how he turned into a great player.”
When he accepted, Wesley tweeted that he “can’t wait to become a part of the Ragin’ Cajun family.”
Doing so will mean leaving behind his own family members in Texas.
But Wesley won’t forget them, just like he’ll never forget a mother and her impact on him — Monica, who according to her headstone is “SWEETLY SLEEPING.”
“I think of her each and every day,” Trajan Wesley said.