LaQuill Hardnett just got home from basketball practice when he learned that his childhood friend, Brishaun Lamar Hall, was shot and killed.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Hardnett said. “I had to walk outside.”
Hardnett, a senior forward on the men’s basketball team, grew up in Philadelphia. He became friends with Hall at the age of 6.
“He’d been everywhere with me, [he] was like my first friend ever,” Hardnett said. “Everywhere I’d go to play basketball, he’d come and watch all my games. [He] was really my right-hand man.”
Hall was killed in West Philadelphia while walking to the “same store he walked to every day of his life.” He died on Sept. 28, 2020, two days after Hardnett’s birthday. Hall planned to visit Hardnett in Buffalo before his death.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2020 was one of the worst years on record with 447 fatal shootings and over 2,000 total shootings.
“It’s always been a problem, ever since I was young. But ever since COVID, it’s been even worse,” Hardnett said. “You can’t look left or right without someone having a gun.”
Hardnett said pandemic relief funding may have contributed to the issue, because it gave people who previously “didn’t have the money and access” the resources to buy guns.
“And now it’s to the point where people feel like they’re not safe unless they have a gun,” Hardnett said. “It’s just been a downhill trickle.”
This problem is not unique to Philadelphia. According to Pew Research, gun murders are up over the last 10 years. Buffalo reported 292 shootings in 2020, according to WGRZ. The U.S. saw over 70 mass shootings in the first six weeks of 2023, according to USA Today.
Hardnett wants to use his platform as a Division-I basketball player to change that. At the beginning of the season, the UB Athletic Department encouraged players to choose a cause to promote. Hardnett chose gun violence awareness, in large part because of his friend’s tragic death.
“Gun violence resonated with me because I dealt with it first hand.” Hardnett said.. “His death opened my eyes to a problem that has been going on in our inner cities.”
On Feb. 21, thanks to Hardnett’s activism, UB men’s basketball hosted “Gun Violence Awareness Night.” Before their game against Central Michigan, the team played a video message from Hardnett about his personal experience.
“Wear Orange” apparel filled Alumni Arena and players wore “End Gun Violence” warmup shirts and orange socks during the game.
“It felt good having all the support from everybody, all my teammates and coaches,” Hardnett told The Spectrum after the game.
Hardnett hopes the UB gun violence awareness game will continue annually, but he admits there is no “concrete solution” to gun violence. He does have some policy changes he’d like to see pass.
“Making the gun laws more stern, so people who have guns can’t just get out in six months,” Hardnett suggested. “Maybe if we make the consequences for guns more steep, so people are afraid to go to jail for years at a time.”
Hardnett mentioned his plans to meet with local pastors and community leaders to “spread awareness to the youth” about the issue.
While remembering his childhood friend, and working to honor his legacy, Hardnett spoke emotionally about the impact that Hall had on him.
“He always believed I could go to the NBA, so I’m going to try to make his belief in me a reality,” Hardnett said. “I just try and dedicate everything I do to him.”
Ryan Tantalo is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The sports desk can be reached at email@example.com
Ryan Tantalo is the managing editor of The Spectrum. He previously served as senior sports editor. Outside of the newsroom, Ryan spends his time announcing college hockey games, golfing, skiing and reading.