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College basketball player gunned down in Monterey Park left Chicago to escape violence

For Saieed Ivey, the towering palm trees and bright skies of Los Angeles made it an ideal place to pursue his dreams of playing in the NBA.

His hometown of Chicago was in the grip of a wave of shootings, and Ivey’s own family knew the heartache such violence could bring. His half-brother was fatally shot six years ago.

So Ivey left home and headed to play basketball at East Los Angeles College, moving into an apartment with his brother in Monterey Park, a suburb that has not seen a killing in more than a year.

Last week, a single gunshot shattered the false sense of security. Ten months after moving to Los Angeles, Ivey was found shot to death in the backseat of a Mercedes-Benz on June 9 – his 20th birthday.

His killing evoked eerie memories of the death of his 21-year-old half-brother, Mario Hines, who was gunned down in March 2010 while inside a vehicle, according to Chicago news reports and a relative.

“It’s like deja vu,” said Ivey’s nephew, Cortez Smith.

The shooting, Smith said, was a catalyst for both of them to stay out of trouble. “It impacted him to follow his dreams and work hard and stay out of the streets,” Smith said.

Smith, 22, also moved out to Los Angeles, arriving in February, a few months after Ivey. He and his uncle were looking for a place to make better lives for themselves and their families.

For Ivey, it was through basketball. For Smith, it was acting and modeling.

The two, who grew up together, pledged that whoever succeeded first would help the other, and that they would pay for their mothers to move away from Chicago, Smith said.

Ivey’s friends and family described him as a high-achieving student and a confident, charming athlete.

In a recent post on Facebook, he used a hashtag that exemplified his motivation: FINAO, failure is not an option.

He talked often of giving his mother a better life.

“He wanted to make it so bad,” his mother, Chareda Carter, said last week.

On the night of his death, Ivey had returned to his apartment to hang out after celebrating with friends and family, authorities said.

About 4 a.m., he asked for the keys to the Mercedes, which belonged to a friend’s mother, and went downstairs, authorities said.

Moments later, residents reported hearing arguing and gunfire. Police found Ivey in the locked car, with its headlights on, in the parking lot.

Investigators are looking for more people who were at the gathering to come forward, said Capt. Steve Katz, with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’re looking for anybody who might have been with him in the moments leading up to the tragic event,” Katz said.

Ivey began playing basketball as a little boy, using a toy hoop set up in his bedroom and practicing at Chuck E. Cheese with his friends.

He was the competitive middle child of three basketball-playing brothers.

“He’d always be shooting in the bedroom,’’ his father recalled.

The youngster went on to play guard for Simeon Career Academy, a high school well-known for its basketball program. The school is located in the city’s South Side, an area disproportionately affected by violence.

Anthony Bates, the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Governors State University, recalled on Friday how he first met Ivey at a recruiting event. He said he immediately noticed the high school student’s confidence and skills on the court.

Bates said he knew he wanted Ivey to play for him, but he had to sell him on his program, which was brand new at the time. Ivey was interested.

“He wanted to start something instead of follow something,” said Bates, the athletic director at the Chicago-area college.

Bates said Ivey did well academically as well as on the court, “pretty rare for a freshman.”

After playing last year for the university, Ivey told his coach that he wanted to play at a higher level in Southern California. He also thought he’d be safer in L.A., Bates said.

When Ivey left Chicago last year for East Los Angeles College, the two kept in touch.

“He felt really good about being in L.A.,” Bates said.

When news of Ivey’s death spread, Bates canceled practice with his team and on Friday night, counselors were on hand to help the grieving students.

“They were devastated,” Bates said of his team’s players, some of whom had played with Ivey and lived in the dorms with him. “They still stayed in constant contact with him.”

In the basketball program’s two-year existence, three other recruits have been killed before they got to play for the college, he said.

Ivey was the first killed after playing, he said.

Ivey’s father, Steve, said his son was due to visit Chicago because his brother and sister who are twins, turn 18 on June 18 and graduate from Simeon on Tuesday. He said the slaying hasn’t hit home yet.

“It’s very, very, very painful, but pain is part of life," he said.  "The more you love, the more you grieve, and it’s coming to us."

Instead of preparing for the graduation celebrations, Ivey’s mother, flew to Los Angeles. At the apartment complex where Ivey lived, she spoke to reporters and described her son as a motivator and a leader.

“Chicago is home, but there’s some really horrible things that’s happening in the streets of Chicago,” she said. “It just goes to show you that violence is everywhere, and you just have to really be careful.”

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @nicolesantacruz and @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

Photo: A tow truck hauls away a Mercedes-Benz in which Saieed Ivey was found shot to death. Credit: Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times

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