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The Cougar from Columbia

Justin Gorham keeps father's memory alive as he leads Houston into Sweet 16
Justin Gorham
Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 11:12:29-04

BALTIMORE, Md. — He is the Cougar from Columbia.

The high-flyer from Howard County.

The beast on the boards from Baltimore.

Now Justin Gorham is leading Houston into the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.

"It’s night and day with how I’ve grown since the first time I’ve arrived on campus," he said from Indianapolis, site of the NCAA Tournament.

Gorham arrived at University of Houston in 2018. The Calvert Hall grad transferred there after two years at Towson University. The 6-foot-7 senior is now a starting forward for the Cougars. He is the best rebounder for one of the best rebounding teams nation.

"Scoring will always be there. Playing defense, getting to loose balls and just getting the offensive rebounds - that will get my game going," he said.

The Cats’ catalyst has his team two wins away from a Final Four. His inspiration is with him every step of the way.

"My father, I lost him my freshman year before the season."

Jerry Gorham Sr. passed away from intestinal cancer in October 2016. He was 53.

"You know, I just think about him every day," said Justin. "He would love to see me at this stage because I used to watch the NCAA Tournament with him."

"This is a dream that he and his dad had together," said Justin's mother, Tonya, from her home in Columbia. "Jerry Sr. lived to see his son play college ball and he didn’t have the opportunity. For me, it’s bittersweet because I ask the question, 'Why isn’t my husband here to see this?' This is something, it was a bond that the two of them had together."

That bond is still clear on the court.

"A lot of the things I see him doing now, athletically, are things I remember his dad telling him," added Tonya.

Those skills will be on full display Saturday night when Justin and his teammates take on Syracuse in Indy.

Tonya will be there. So will her late husband in spirit.

"I’ll look up, the furthest seat up, I’ll look up and I know that my husband is there."

"I just think about him and play for him and my family and just go out there and give it my all every game," said Justin.

Tonya said one of the things Jerry used to say was, 'They may not be listening but they hear us'. The Gorham family is being heard loud and clear during the biggest time of the college basketball season.

Follow Shawn Stepner on Twitter @StepnerWMAR and Facebook