Clovis News: Sports

Clovis East athlete finds strength despite grief

Kim Pree sat in her bedroom Thursday, trying to decide if she wanted to play basketball.

She had gone to class at Clovis East High that afternoon because there's a rule that you have to attend at least two hours of school to be eligible to play that night.

But after class, she'd gone home, sat on her bed and couldn't decide. It was 4:40 p.m., then 5, then 5:20, and she still didn't know for sure.

Finally, she decided she would play and headed to one of the best high school basketball games you can imagine.

Kim's sister, Alescia Pree, graduated from Clovis East last year and then enrolled at Fresno City. She sang with her only sister at the Church of God on First Avenue, and she went to all of Kim's basketball games, home and away. In the 11 years of Clovis East High School, the girls basketball team had never beat rival Clovis West, and Alescia used to say she couldn't wait for that day.

Alescia got her wisdom teeth out a few months ago and that's what they all figured was causing her headaches. A week ago, though, the pain was unbearable, and Kim could hear her sister crying all night through the bedroom wall.

At 4 a.m. last Tuesday, they took Alescia to the emergency room and by that evening, she was in surgery to relieve fluid around her brain. Her family had been in the hospital all day and her dad and brother needed to get away, so they went to watch Kim's playoff game at Clovis East. Kim had a good game. The Timberwolves won.

A CAT scan would show Alescia had a disease called Chiari malformation. After the surgery, she went into a coma and never woke up. She died Wednesday.

The next day, Clovis East was scheduled to play Clovis West as the Division I playoffs continued, pitting the No. 7 seed versus the No. 2. In Kim's bedroom, a hundred thoughts went through her head.

My sister would have wanted me to play. That's what everybody says in that situation, right? And it was true, Alescia really would have wanted her to play. Kim thought about that. And then she thought about all those people watching her, waiting to see if she'd air-ball or double-dribble or break down sobbing and have to leave the gym.

"I just didn't know if I could handle it," Kim said.

Kaitlin Kaufmann didn't know exactly what to tell her. The Clovis East girls basketball coach is 23, and this is her first season as a head coach.

"She hadn't told me yes or no, and I wasn't going to push," Kaufmann said. "I just told her that as a team, we were all here for her if she needed anything. There's nothing you really can say besides I'll be there for you. It's just hard."

When Kim got to the game at Clovis West, the Golden Eagles had a signed card for her. The opposing school wanted to have a moment of silence, but parents Brian and Stephanie Pree said it wasn't necessary. They didn't want to overshadow the teams.

Something a little odd happened in that gym. Kim didn't get pre-game jitters the way she usually does.

"I wasn't really nervous at all," she said. "I'm usually nervous to play Clovis West, but I wasn't nervous at all. I just came in knowing I was playing for my sister. That's pretty much all I was thinking about."

Early in the game, Clovis East's star player, Erikka Banks, got in foul trouble, and the Timberwolves needed something. Kim is known as a good defensive player, but that night she hit a shot and then another. She scored 17 points.

The Timberwolves led by 3 with a few seconds left when Clovis West took a 3-pointer. It went through as the buzzer sounded. The crowd roared. They were going to overtime.

"It was just one of those games," said Clovis East athletic director Pete Price. "You wouldn't believe the intensity of it. We're in the playoffs. We're going to double overtime."

In a hurricane of emotion, Clovis East stood calm and made free throws. The Timberwolves beat Clovis West for the first time and moved on to play at Stockdale tonight.

"It was a pretty emotional night," Kim said.

Says her coach: "Kim probably had the game of her life."

A game for two lives.