NEW YORK (AP) — The tournament’s name says it all: 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
A two-day event at Madison Square Garden is part of an initiative to raise money to help fund research and awareness of a disease that affects so many.
When No. 19 Texas A&M meets Mississippi State and No. 15 Arizona faces St. John’s on Thursday night, two coaches and a player will have feelings besides the usual pregame jitters.
Steve Lavin of St. John’s had prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. He was back on the bench just over a month after the surgery, and Arizona will be his third game on the bench this season. He’s become even more involved in Coaches vs. Cancer than he had been for more than two decades.
“I’ve always had an amplified awareness of how important it is to champion the cause of finding a cure for cancer, and that’s because my grandmother passed of pancreatic cancer, my father had prostate cancer and is a survivor for 21 years now and has also had skin cancer, and my niece, Sophia, lost her right eye to cancer,” the 47-year-old Lavin said. “So, before I was even diagnosed with prostate cancer, I had a very personal awareness of how vital and critical it is that we continue to support the fight against cancer.”
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy had his first season come to a crashing halt when he was recently diagnosed with an early stage of Parkinson’s disease. Kennedy, also 47, took an advised leave of absence, but returned to the bench for Sunday’s game against Southern University.
“It’s been a difficult time, the most difficult time I’ve ever been through,” Kennedy said. “I haven’t arrived yet, by any means, but I’m just excited to be the head coach at Texas A&M and am thankful that the coaches did a tremendous job of getting these guys prepared to play. The guys have done a good job of buying in and doing great things.”
Glynn Cyprien has been the interim coach in Kennedy’s absence.
“It was great to have coach back and have him in uniform, have our commander in chief back,” Cyprien said. “I thought his energy level was good. He was great with the guys. The guys were really excited to have him back.
“We still understand that it’s a day-to-day process with him. He’s still under the care of his physician, and we just want to continue to pray for coach and get him back as close to 100 percent as possible.”
Kennedy made the long trip to New York City for the two-day event. Lavin will drive in the 15 or so miles from St. John’s campus in Queens to Madison Square Garden. His inexperienced team won its first three games at Carnesecca Arena on campus. Only one player on the team has ever played at the famed Garden.
“We turned the volume up some (at practice) so they could get a sense of the crowd and a little bit of the flavor of Madison Square Garden,” Lavin said. “Also, to get their hearts started — there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of adrenaline.”
Arizona’s Kevin Parrom might have more adrenaline this weekend than any of the other players in the tournament.
Just two months ago, while home in New York City to visit his mother who was battling breast cancer, the 6-foot-6 Parrom was shot twice and one of the bullets caused some serious damage in his leg. While he was recovering, his mother Lisa passed away. Parrom was facing a lonely recovery but his coaches and teammates supported him.
Last week he returned to the court. The fans at the McKale Center gave him an ovation when he reported into the game and again when he came out. The same thing will probably happen in New York City when Parrom goes into the game.
“My mother, she wouldn’t want me thinking about it,” Parrom said. “When she passed, she didn’t even know I had gotten shot. I kept it away from her. But I don’t think about it much because I know she wouldn’t want me dwelling on it. That’s one thing she taught me and my brother, if something happens, move on from it.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)