Lee’s Summit senior Paige Elston gestured toward the wooden bleachers in the corner of her high school basketball gym. Her pointer finger targeted a particular section of the orange-tinted grain.
For the past three months, she has glanced there often, she said, a habit she doesn’t think will ever dissipate.
“I would hear her talking to me from right there,” Elston said. “I would look over, and she would say, ‘Do what you do best out there.’”
Her voice quieted.
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“Do what you do best.”
Elston has an abundance of memories of her sister, Jasmine, but this is the one that has stuck. The one that she feels best captures the essence of their relationship — with basketball as a backdrop and a message of support at the forefront.
Jasmine died on Nov. 28 as a result of complications from lupus, an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own organs. She was 22.
The death occurred in the first week of Paige’s senior season. She contemplated quitting basketball or perhaps just taking a break. But not for long.
“I couldn’t quit,” she said. “Because I started thinking about it, and basketball was the only thing that was comforting. Because just knowing that that was so much fun for us and something we used to do all the time, it made everything feel OK again.”
It was their biggest connection as kids, Paige explained. They shared four different childhood homes together, and each of them had a basketball goal in the driveway. Separated by five years, they played often. Jasmine was the shooter. Paige was the ball-handler.
Even after Jasmine was diagnosed with lupus three years ago — after she felt “off” during her freshman year at Pittsburg State, her mom says — basketball remained a common point of conversation. They talked about Paige’s final season and the chance to reach the state tournament — a reality Paige will experience Friday, when the Lee’s Summit Tigers face St. Joseph’s Academy at 6 p.m. in the Missouri Class 5 semifinals at Mizzou Arena. Paige is the starting point guard.
“Basketball was their relationship,” said Michele Morrow, Paige and Jasmine’s mother. “Even when Jasmine played in high school (at Lee’s Summit), Paige would go to practice, and the coach would let her sit on the bench and watch.”
Paige last saw her sister on Nov. 26, two days after Thanksgiving. She feared Jasmine’s conditioned had worsened, though the family did not expect it to take her life. Lupus affects about 1.5 million Americans, but 80-90 percent of them experience a normal life expectancy.
Paige and Jasmine covered everything that final night. Basketball. Family. Life.
Jasmine died in her sleep two days later, after falling asleep while watching TV.
Paige was at a basketball tournament she was heard the news. There were people — those whose opinion she values — who suggested she take the season off and allow herself to grieve. She ultimately opted to honor her sister on the court. During senior night, for example, Paige made a collage of pictures of herself with Jasmine and carried it into the gym.
There are plenty of remembrances off the court, too. The way Jasmine would blast her favorite music and sing the lyrics out loud. Paige does it now, too. She also wears a golden ring on her hand that Jasmine wore every day.
But nothing prompts the memories the way basketball has.
“I think about her all the time when I’m out there,” Paige said. “We talked about me going to state, and I always told her I was going to go to state, so I definitely think about that a lot now.”