Macklin pays tribute to fallen friend with special tattoo


Florida's Vernon Macklin smiles as he cheers on his team from the sideline during the Gators' win vs. UCLA at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa on Saturday.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 12:01 a.m.

Florida senior center Vernon Macklin has lost count of the number of tattoos on his body.

“Forty or something,” Macklin said. “My mom gets on me about it a little bit.”

Yet one holds a special meaning for Macklin, as special as the one he had dedicated to his late grandmother. On the underside of Macklin's left forearm, around a large cross, the words “Rashawn Finney” are inscribed in black letters.

“I rub this every game before tipoff,” Macklin said, pointing to the tattoo. “Every time before I go on the (free-throw) line.”




Rashawn Finney was the victim of a senseless crime in Chesapeake, Va., taking seven gunshot wounds at a late-night party. He hung on for two weeks on a ventilator at Sentera Norfolk General Hospital before passing on Sept. 27, 2008.

He was just 18, a star senior wide receiver at Norcom High who had a chance to move on to play college football. Two in-state schools, Hampton and Virginia State, were recruiting him.

He also was one of Macklin's best friends.

“Since he was a little boy,” Macklin said. “Both of his brothers are my best friends. I basically lived with them because they used to take me to AAU Tournaments because my parents didn't have a car. I basically grew up in that house and watched him grow up.

“It's sad he got killed. That was like my little brother.”

Growing up in Portsmouth, Va., Macklin was a fixture in the Finney household. Ben Finney, Rashawn's older brother and a senior small forward at Old Dominion University, played basketball with Macklin through high school and travel leagues.

“He was basically family,” Ben Finney said. “He was one of us.”

Ben Finney said Macklin had a penchant for practical jokes growing up. Once, Macklin ordered 10 pizzas in Finney's name, then hid in the bushes.

“The delivery guy came and I was surprised,” Finney said. “I had to pay for the pizzas.”

Though Ben was the oldest of a family that included three brothers and two sisters, he said Rashawn acted as more of the father figure. Rashawn earned the nickname “Peanut” because he was the smaller of two twin brothers.

“Rashawn was the one who was always getting on me, always trying to get me to do the right things,” Ben Finney said.

Family members said Rashawn was trying to break up a fight when he was shot. His killer, Jarrel Eldridge, pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Ben Finney was a sophomore at nearby Old Dominion at the time of Rashawn's death. Macklin had just enrolled at Florida after two unsuccessful seasons at Georgetown.

As a fifth-year senior at Florida, Macklin is fulfilling his promise as a McDonald's All-American recruit. In high school, Macklin was being hailed as the next Alonzo Mourning, another Norfolk-area standout who went on to Georgetown and the NBA.

“He was humbled,” Ben Finney said. “We talked a lot. I'm glad he went to Florida because it's worked out for him there.”

Macklin admitted that sitting out games during the 2008-09 season due to NCAA transfer rules was tough. But since becoming eligible in 2009-10, Macklin has provided the post scoring presence that's allowed Florida to reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. This season, Macklin is averaging 11.3 points per game while ranking third in the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage (58.1 percent from the floor.)

Off the court, Macklin has carried over his penchant for practical jokes to his Florida teammates. His favorite target is Florida redshirt junior guard Adam Allen. Macklin has hidden Allen's cell phone on more than one occasion.

Macklin said he knows the value of keeping things loose. As a freshman on Georgetown in 2007, Macklin said the ability for the team to keep things light on occasion helped the Hoyas make a run to the Final Four.

“I think his upbringing has made him who he is today,” said Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons, who roomed with Macklin last season. “Nothing has ever been given to him. He's had nothing easy. And I think him having a taste of success at Georgetown, going and having the success his team did in Georgetown has really helped us. He talks. He's a vocal leader on this team and he helps out the young guys.”

Ben Finney said he will pull for the Gators in the Southeastern Regional in New Orleans. Ben could have been there too, but Old Dominion was knocked out by eighth-seeded Butler 60-58 at the buzzer in its opening NCAA Tournament game. Butler went on to upset top-seed Pittsburgh and made it to New Orleans instead.

Like Macklin, Ben Finney has a matching “Rashawn Finney” underneath his forearm. Like Macklin, Ben said he will rub the tattoo before the Florida game to honor his fallen brother.

“I think Rashawn would be proud,” Ben said. “Of both of us.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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