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ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — Greg Hill’s coaches and family had high hopes for his future in basketball. He was going to wear the No. 3 jersey on East High School’s varsity team last season. Instead, it hung untouched in a closet.

This season, though, Chris Burnell, 17, asked to wear it. He is a junior on the team that head coach Roy Sackmaster said is “on pace to have the best season East has had in 30 years.”

“I wanted to play through him,” Burnell told me Wednesday. Burnell was a pallbearer at Hill’s funeral after the 15-year-old died from a gunshot wound early on July 31, 2016. Rockford police say Hill was not involved in a dispute among rivals at a large party where several shots were fired.

Burnell and teammate Sha’Den Clanton, 17, and a junior as well, have taken to posting the hashtag #H4H — which stands for Hoops for Hill — on their social media accounts. “It’s to keep him in remembrance and to motivate me to play basketball,” Clanton said.

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“He had great defense, was always aggressive,” Clanton said of Hill.

Hill was 6 feet, 2 inches tall, had a doting older sister, and dreamed of playing in the NBA. “We knew Greg was a good kid; we knew he would be a big part of the program at East,” Sackmaster said.

Sackmaster said the team has dealt with Hill’s death “in a healthy way by excelling on the basketball court,” with 15 wins and 7 losses this season. Sackmaster created an ongoing tribute by naming East High’s summer basketball league the “Greg Hill Memorial Summer League.”

Nekita Hill, Greg Hill’s mother, watches the boys’ games while sitting with Burnell’s mother. She told me she is grateful her son’s friends are “pushing through their pain” by keeping his memory alive. She said she also believes that doing so will “raise awareness about violence” and could help solve her son’s murder.

Burnell, who played basketball at the YMCA, on leagues, and in school with Hill since fifth grade, said Hill was supposed to hang out with him before the shooting. “That night, I asked him to go to a movie,” Burnell said. “He already had plans.”

Burnell said carrying his friend’s casket was “one of the toughest moments in my life.” He’d never even attended a funeral before.

Hill’s death was one of 32 homicides in 2016 in Winnebago County. Gun deaths accounted for 18, and 14 victims were 17 years old or younger.

Nekita Hill had heard through the grapevine that her son was going to a party that night, and she told him not to do so.

Rockford Police Lt. Kurt Whisenand told me Wednesday that Hill’s shooting is being actively investigated. He said there were “upwards of 30 or 40 people” at the party in the 3200 block of Green Dale Drive and that the department has interviewed “maybe half” of the attendees. “A large number of people we have not been able to ID to talk to,” he said.

“Witnesses who … have relevant information” have not come forward, he said. Whisenand said Hill was not involved in the dispute that erupted and that Hill was not an intended target. A female also was shot but did not have a life-threatening wound, he said. The Winnebago County Coroner has said there were no drugs or alcohol in Hill’s system.

Burnell, who said he hopes to get college scholarships through basketball to become a physical trainer or doctor, said the pace of the investigation is troubling. “It’s not easy. You can’t get mad at them. It’s the hardest job.

“It could just be faster, so (Greg) could get justice,” he said.

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Source: Rockford Register Star,

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com