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After Losing His Best Friend, Ricky Rijos Plans To 'Live Life To The Fullest'

Ricky Rijos Jr.
Lara Solt
KERA News special contributor
Ricky Rijos Jr. turns to look for his family and friends during his graduation from Flower Mound High School at UNT Coliseum in Denton, on Monday, June 6, 2017.

Ricky Rijos finished up high school in January, but he waited until June to get his diploma with his classmates from Flower Mound High School. He's headed to the University of North Texas this fall. Ricky's learned some hard lessons over the last four years, including one that may actually take a lifetime to deal with — the death of his best friend.

One recent day at the Rijos home in Flower Mound, only Ricky and his mom were around. Sister Gabriella, 20, is in college and dad, Riki Sr., is busy managing his Texas Roadhouse restaurant.

Since graduating early in January with a 3.4 GPA, Ricky Jr.'s worked at the restaurant full time.

"We're open from like 4 to 10 Monday through Thursday, so I'll usually work that, and then in the morning, I'll maybe work out, but sometimes, I want to get some sleep," Ricky says.

Back in 2014, Ricky was waiting for a growth spurt that never really happened. Basketball was his life. He was laser focused on playing in the NBA.

Ricky didn't make varsity. He dropped the basketball dream cold turkey and just moved on.

He hasn't missed it much, except for his best friend, Keonte Johnson.

Ricky met KJ at a local rec center a few years back. Ricky was three years younger than KJ, but the age difference didn't matter. They hit it off and with another friend, Noah Chambers, hung out all the time.

"He was just real family. He would always say we were brothers: me, him and Noah. We have all these other friends. We're close with them, but that was like us three — we're the big three. We're all brothers," Ricky says. "His family was my family. He would come in. He wouldn't even knock on the door. He would just open the door."

Then, one night in April changed everything.

Read the entire story about Ricky — he's one of seven North Texas teens we've been following since 8th grade in our American Graduate series, Class of '17.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.