Charles Hayward never got a chance to live up to his billing as the top basketball recruit ever at North Carolina Charlotte. Leukemia changed those plans, and now the disease has taken his life.
Hayward, 21, died late Sunday night at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, the school said Monday.
Hayward was admitted to the hospital in April and underwent a bone marrow transplant. The donor was Eric Hayward, his older brother and a former basketball player at Connecticut.
Complications arose in July when Hayward's body began rejecting the transplant, and his condition worsened considerably last Thursday, school officials said. Teammates, family members and coach Bobby Lutz spent the weekend visiting him in the hospital.
"We're all very deeply saddened by Charles' passing," Lutz said. "I'm personally thankful for the opportunity to have known him. He was one of the most courageous young men I've ever had the pleasure of being around, and he was an inspiration to all of us for the past two years and even in his passing."
The university planned a memorial service for Wednesday afternoon at Halton Arena, the 49ers' homecourt. A funeral is scheduled for Friday in Hayward's hometown of Alexandria, La.
When Hayward came out of Louisiana in 1997, he was the highest rated recruit ever to sign with the 49ers. But North Carolina Charlotte's coaching staff noticed in preseason drills that the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Hayward seemed constantly tired, so they sent him for a series of tests that showed the presence of acute myeloid leukemia.
Hayward missed his freshman season while undergoing a series of chemotherapy treatments. The 49ers, meantime, advanced to the NCAA tournament, dedicating their season to Hayward and keeping a plastic seat cover with his name and number 45 on their bench at games, symbolically reserving a spot for their teammate.
Hayward was declared in remission in April 1998 and cleared to rejoin his teammates. He celebrated by getting a tattoo of a wolf with the word "Survivor" inscribed on his right arm.
He regained the 70 or so pounds he lost during chemotherapy and spent countless hours in the weight room, bulking up to 220 pounds and working himself back into playing shape.
Hayward played 14 minutes in last year's season opener, scoring two points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking two shots. In the fourth game, Lutz increased Hayward's playing time to 24 minutes, and he responded with eight points, seven rebounds and a school freshman record six blocks.
But 10 games into the comeback, routine blood tests showed the leukemia had returned, and Hayward spent the Christmas holidays back in the hospital for more chemotherapy.
The sleeve on the bench returned, and the 49ers won the Conference USA championship to again advance to the NCAA tournament. But unlike the previous year, when Hayward occasionally felt well enough to join his teammate for games while watching in street clothes, he spent most of his remaining days in the hospital.
Hayward's final averages were 15.9 minutes, 2.9 points and 3.5 rebounds.
The university has set up a fund to help defray the medical expenses Hayward's family faces. Hayward's mother, Janice Harrell, lost her job because she spent so much time in North Carolina with her son.
"Financially the family is not doing well," school spokesman Tom Whitestone said.
In addition to his brother and mother, Hayward leaves two sisters, Janell and Tiffany Hayward; one brother, Tony Hayward, and his grandparents, Charles and Ida Mae Hayward.
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