Marcel Respress stepped onto the Niagara Falls High School gymnasium floor with his twin brother Miguel more times than he could count when both were members of the Wolverines basketball team.

Even though Miguel died over the summer after collapsing at an AAU basketball tournament in California, Marcel has no trouble imagining that his brother is still right there with him.

“I definitely feel that he’s still here,” Marcel said Tuesday after the Wolverines dispatched Kenmore West 83-43 in their home opener. “Every time I step out on that floor, I think of my brother.”

His dad has a little harder time imagining Miguel on the floor.

“I keep looking for that smirk that Miguel always wore when he was out on the court,” said Michael Respress. “But I can still see it a little bit in each one of the guys who play now.”

Miguel became a permanent part of the gymnasium where he thrived when the team retired his familiar No. 25 before the game.

The uniform was neatly framed and displayed on an easel. Principal Mark Laurrie called down Respress’ family members to take possession of the uniform, which will be hung on in the gym at a later date.

It was a large group that included Miguel’s father and step-mom, Elaine; siblings Marcel, Myron, Maurice, Marcus, Jebrel, Toria and Kendra; grandmother Josie; uncle Derek; nephew Jordan and niece Simone; and cousins Lenny, London and Terrence. Tyrell Douglas, Miguel’s best friend who graduated in June, also was present.

The somber group proudly held the jersey high to a standing ovation. Then during a moment of silence to honor Miguel, crying could be heard throughout the gym.

“I knew the first home game was going to be tough emotionally,” Niagara Falls coach Dan Bazzani said. “I didn’t know how we’d react — we were very emotional at the start. You could see it in their faces.”

Respress came up to the varsity basketball team late during the 2002-03 season as a freshman and was a fixture on the team ever since. Likely a Division I prospect, the 6-foot-8 Respress was a regular contributor on last year’s state championship team and would have played a key role on this year’s team.

He also made an indelible impression on his teammates.

“It was a terrible loss, but we stayed with it for him,” said senior Anthony Marshall, who scored a career-high 13 points against Kenmore West. “Everything we do — it’s all for him.”

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