Canzano: Deante Strickland's legacy shines on
“Don’t take the time for granted," he told us. "It goes by fast.”
I was on a family vacation when Deante Strickland was shot and killed. It was the summer of 2019. I pulled my laptop out and got on the telephone with one of his family members, then spoke with police and his coaches, sifting through the wreckage.
We were in Central Oregon.
My daughters were playing a board game on the carpet. I excused myself and slipped away to a chair across the room, watching them play while I gathered the terrible details of Strickland’s death.
The kid known as “Strick” died during a visit to his grandmother’s house. The shooter was his older sister, Tamena. Police said she sprayed bullets into three family members — also wounding the grandmother and an aunt.
Deante, 22, stumbled out the front door of that house in Northeast Portland, witnesses said. He’d been shot in the chest. The final moments of his life were spent looking for someone to help him.
Contractors working across the street tried to save him. They applied pressure to his wounds. They called for an ambulance and performed CPR. They told police that Deante Strickland’s last words were, “My sister shot me ... I don’t want to die.”
I didn’t want you to die, either, Deante.
None of us did.
Portland State played a men’s basketball game in Strickland’s honor last Saturday — the annual “StrickCity” game. It’s a celebration the program has marked on the schedule every season since his death. The Vikings honored his memory and recognized a handful of his family members on the court. Then, the team fell behind by double digits to Montana State.
Down by 15 points with 4:25 to play.
Down eight points with 1:06 left.
“He was so important to PSU and the Portland community,” Vikings coach Jase Coburn told me.
Strick graduated college before he was shot. He spent hours talking with his coaches about staying in Portland to help coach kids. He wanted to get a master’s degree. And while he’d exhausted his basketball eligibility — two years of community college and two at PSU — Strickland knew he had a season of potential football eligibility.
Vikings football coach Bruce Barnum was walking through the gymnasium one day when he saw the 5-foot-9 Strickland working out with a medicine ball. Strickland picked the heavy ball off the hardwood floor and dunked it.
Strickland began working out with Barnum’s team that spring. He’d always worn a No. 11 jersey in basketball. But it’s retired (Neil Lomax) in football. Strickland requested No. 9 because nobody else wanted it.
“We might as well work at retiring this one, coach,” Strickland joked.
What ensued over the next several months highlights what made Strickland special. He was joyful, driven, and passionate. His verve was infectious. He was blessed with athleticism and tireless energy. He made All-State and All-League in high school basketball, for example, but was also named “Mr. Hustle” at the Les Schwab Invitational Tournament.
Strickland dove into the PSU football workouts, calling upon muscle memory from his time playing on a state championship team at Central Catholic High.
“He’d watch film with me,” Barnum told me the night of Strickland’s death. “He’d sat in every chair in my office.”
Then, Barnum took a long pause.
Strickland was due for a 3 p.m. meeting in the football coach’s office the day he was killed. He was supposed to leave his grandmother’s house on the 6200 block of Northeast 42nd Avenue and meet Barnum. But Strick never showed up. He only made it across the street, where he died in the arms of those construction workers.
“He never missed a sit-down,” Barnum continue. “I should have made him get here earlier.”
The criminal case involving his sister drags on. She’s undergone psychiatric reviews and agreed to multiple plea deals, only to walk them back once she appears in court. The most recent deal would have found her guilty except for insanity. Under the agreement, she was to be sent to the Oregon State Hospital and placed under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric State Review Board for life while facing a concurrent 22-year prison term. She agreed to the plea but refused to sign it in court.
I can’t imagine any of this has been easy on Strickland’s family.
I remember watching my children playing that board game as I learned about the terrible end to Strick’s life. His story wasn’t supposed to end that way. He should have played football at PSU, got his master’s, coached kids, made an impact, and lived into his 80s.
On his graduation day, Strickland filmed a video, reflecting on what he’d learned.
“Don’t take the time for granted,” he said. “It goes by fast.”
It was a prophetic message.
One I hope we all heed.
Deante Strickland’s extended family and friends attended last Saturday’s home basketball game. Portland State missed a bunch of shots, turned the ball over, and fell behind. But Strick’s family stuck around, cheering to the end.
Remember, the double-digit deficit?
Montana State led by 15 points with four minutes to play. And Portland State was behind by eight points with only a minute left. It was over, right? Done? But then, the most interesting and amazing thing happened. The Vikings held the opposition scoreless while scoring on every one of the final eight possessions.
The final result was surreal: Portland State 94, Montana State 91.
The victory was followed by a wild celebration on the court. Someone in the locker room looked at the box score and noted that PSU had outscored Montana State with an 11-0 run to close the contest. 11? Strickland’s old number? Jase Coburn, the PSU coach, smiled when he realized that.
“Incredible,” Coburn said.
The PSU coach told me this week that he’s determined to hold a “StrickCity” game every basketball season. He wants to make sure Strickland’s legacy lives on. And that team of his delivered a closing performance No. 11 would have loved.
Said Coburn: “The best part of the night was to be able to see his family come into the locker room after the game and share a moment of joy.”
I love that part.
It’s like Strick said — don’t take the time for granted.
It goes by fast.
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