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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Some players may shy away from wearing No. 13. It’s unlucky, they may say.

Not Arkansas Razorbacks forward Dustin Thomas. Instead, it has tremendous significance.

This “Beyond the Game” story, which first aired on KATV’s Razorback Basketball Special this month, chronicles a difficult upbringing for Thomas.

KATV reports that as a 5-year-old in east Texas, his mom, Shonda, and dad, David, divorced. His father was sent to prison.

“He wasn’t really around when I was growing up,” Thomas said. “He was in and out of jail, just getting into issues with the law.”

That left his mom to raise Dustin and his older sister, Tierra.

“I really can’t describe how much I can thank her, all the sacrifice she made. She went through a lot.

“She worked two jobs, cleaning houses, working at Wal-Mart. She did a lot of sacrificing.”

Naturally, Thomas developed a close relationship with his sister.

“She was the big sister, two years older than me. We (were) real close.

“She took me everywhere with her. It was a bond you can’t really describe.”

But their time together was cut short. In 2006, Tierra’s life was taken by Microscopic Polyangiitis, a rare disease that damages organs. Dustin was 11. Tierra was 13.

“That’s why I wear that number 13, because it reminds me that life can be that short,” Thomas said. “That’s how short her life was. And it’s just a way I want to represent her.”

He wore No. 13 through high school in Texarkana, his two years at Colorado, and now, at Arkansas. His sister continues to be his inspiration. His mom continues to be his strength.

“She’s basically my backbone. We looked out for each other after that happened, kept each other strong.”

His mom is now able to attend games in North Little Rock and Fayetteville — a big reason why he transferred to Arkansas. Further, with a new perspective on life, he keeps in touch with his father. Thomas said he reached out to him after his sister passed.

“You just never know when your day will be,” he said. “You have to cherish the moment that you’re in and treat the people around you the way you want to be treated.”


Information from: KATV-TV,