Longtime friends are remembering Donnie Kirksey, who died Monday from coronavirus complications.
The former coach spent decades mentoring Chicago's youth through basketball.
"The city of Chicago mourns," said longtime friend, Tom Kleinschmidt. "He’s well respected throughout the country. It’s a great loss for Chicago basketball."
Kirksey coached at multiple high schools in Chicago throughout his decades-long career and at the collegiate level for Chicago State, University of Illinois-Chicago and DePaul University as an assistant coach.
Current DePaul Men's basketball coach Dave Leitao was asked about his relationship with Kirksey on Monday, and he became emotional remembering his longtime friend.
"Words can’t speak enough to impact he had on this community," said Leitao. "He’s helped me and my family more than I could ever say."
Most recently, Kirksey was the Dean of Students and head coach at his alma mater, Chicago Vocational Career Academy. In a statement, the school called Kirksey a "CPS giant who will be sorely missed."
"When kids needed something, he was there for them," said Mike Gilmartin, the Associate Athletic Director at UIC. "A father figure to many, many of our student athletes."
Kirksey was an assistant coach at UIC from 2010-2014. The school said Kirksey helped the Flames reach the postseason in 2013 for the first time in nine years. At the time, Gilmartin was the head athletic trainer and traveled often with Kirksey and the team.
"If you were part of one of his teams you were part of Donnie’s family," he said. "Never, ever did I walk into the office and Donnie didn’t have a smile on his face, and that’s what I’ll always remember."
Although Kirksey coached at the collegiate level, friends say his passion was high school basketball. Vince Carter grew up with Kirksey on the South Side of Chicago and both went on to coach teams of their own.
"I think his heart was really with the high school, younger, teenage kids you can mold into being successful," said Carter.
"We both knew Juwan Howard. He was real close with Juwan. Juwan grew up in the neighborhood I grew up in," Carter said.
Kirksey's friendship with Howard, a long-time NBA star and current Michigan men's basketball coach, and former Chicago Bull, Eddy Curry, are well-known. He coached both men in high school, but his friends and colleagues say his impact was wide ranging.
"What’s great about Donnie is not so much the superstars, it’s the other kids. He might have gotten [them] through high school, or might have gotten them a college degree," said Kleinschmidt, who is now the head coach at DePaul Prep.
Kleinschmidt and others say they spoke with Kirksey within recent days and were shocked to learn of his passing.
"He was in the hospital. I talked to him on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. He was dealing with COVID issues the past couple of weeks. He was feeling better by all accounts," said Kleinschmidt.
"We had just talked earlier this week," said Carter. "He's a religious guy. He did this whole thing on Facebook Live just yesterday."
Remembrance posts are pouring in on social media. Former players, coaches and friends call Kirksey a legend in the Chicago basketball community.