Lakers forward Xion Golding began preparing for his senior season days after the death of his father, Marco Golding. He and his brother Xeo — a sophomore forward at Lesley University — have used basketball as a refuge during their time of mourning.
WINDERMERE He sat in the same seat for each and every game — front and center, first row, toward the far end of the bleachers at the Lakers’ home gym.
Marco Golding was always hard to miss at Windermere Prep basketball games.
Arguably the team’s biggest and most vocal fan over the past few seasons and the father of current senior Xion Golding and former standout Xeo Golding — now a sophomore at Lesley University — Marco Golding was known for giving high-fives to the Lakers during pre-game warmups and was always at the ready if head coach Ben Wilson needed something.
Marco Golding died Oct. 7, and the void the Windermere Prep community has felt since was most pronounced when the Lakers took the court for their first home game of the season Nov. 29 against Melbourne.
The absence of his encouragement and enthusiasm was hard to miss for the entire team, but, of course, Xion felt it on the deepest level, glancing to the crowd looking for the familiar face that was not there.
“The first game, in general, was the hardest,” Xion said, recalling how he and his father would interact during games in the past. “We talked during the game, after the game, before the game — it was constant communication. He saw the game pretty good as a fan and he used to play, as well, so he was very helpful.”
Wilson has coached both Xeo and Xion and recalls Marco Golding as a father in the stands who was as invested in the team as he was in his own sons.
“He was (the team’s) biggest fan — not just Xion’s biggest fan,” Wilson said. “When I got that phone call, obviously my first thoughts were with Xion and Xeo, and then later it sank in that we literally lost a piece of our program.”
Marco Golding was an entrepreneur whose business interests kept him regularly traveling back-and-forth from destinations such as Asia and New York. Still, despite a rigorous travel schedule, it was rare for him to miss a game.
“I never asked how he did it, but he always found a way to get here — I’m thankful for that,” Xion said.
Even for Xeo, whose collegiate career took him out of state to Massachusetts, games during his freshman season at Lesley were usually followed by a phone call from his father. So, when no such call came after the Lynx’s first game Nov. 15, it was another reminder of the finality of it all.
“That was just like ‘wow, he’s really not here anymore,’” Xeo said.
Xeo immediately flew home to be with family following the news in October, and he acknowledges that returning to campus to begin training camp for this season was a tall task. He says that basketball has been a refuge, and that his father’s passing has given him some added perspective toward what a blessing playing the game can be.
“I appreciate every moment of film (review) and training, (every moment of) practice,” Xeo said. “It puts a lot into perspective. Not even just basketball — life in general.”
The Golding brothers have always been close and talked regularly, but since Marco’s death they communicate daily. Now it is Xion who will call Xeo after a game, and vice-versa. The Golding brothers also lean heavily on their mother, Tracey, who lives with Xion in Winter Garden.
When Xeo got an opportunity to come home during the Christmas holiday and watch his brother play in Windermere Prep’s Christmas tournament, it was a reminder that the same Lakers community that had so warmly embraced him would be there to lift up his brother during a trying time.
“Knowing that my brother is in good hands with Windermere Prep, it’s just a blessing,” Xeo said.
Despite the weight of his mourning, Xeo has enjoyed a strong sophomore season so far for Lesley, starting in 17 of 18 games and averaging 15.8 points per game.
"If we were blessed enough to win another state championship, I would definitely dedicate it to (my father). He’s the reason why I’m here, he’s the reason why I play the way I do and I carry myself the way I do."
— Xion Golding
Xion, similarly, has helped the Lakers (14-5) get rolling on an eight-game winning streak and is averaging 12.2 points per game to pair with four rebounds per contest. Acknowledging his sorrow, he says it is important for him to keep improving and playing aggressive — the way Marco would always encourage him to play.
“I try to keep strong and keep working hard because I know that he wants me to do that,” Xion said. “The rest will take care of itself.”
One of many fond memories for Xion is that of the Lakers winning a state championship last spring, something his biggest fan was there to witness. With Windermere Prep ranked among the top teams in the state and again considered a contender, he knows that this season’s journey could again end in Lakeland for the Final Four.
Wherever the journey of this season should end, though, it is a journey that is dedicated to his role model.
“If we were blessed enough to win another state championship, I would definitely dedicate it to (my father),” Xion said. “He’s the reason why I’m here, he’s the reason why I play the way I do and I carry myself the way I do.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].