When Nolan Smith asked Brice Johnson for a favor over a text message in mid-2017, Johnson didn’t think twice.
The two — Johnson, a former first-team All-American forward at UNC, and Smith, a former first-team All-American guard at Duke — were new friends. Smith was set to host his first annual Teen Cancer America Hoop-a-Thon at Duke and wanted Johnson to make an appearance.
The cause was personal, and he couldn’t say no. Johnson lost his mother, Renee, to colon cancer when he was 14.
“My mom’s always been the person to give back to the community and do all the little things for the people that were less fortunate,” Johnson said. “Just growing up seeing that, I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s always been a part of me.”
Two years later, on Saturday morning, Johnson hosted his own Hoop-A-Thon at the Dean E. Smith Center practice facility. And on Sunday morning, Smith hosted Day Two of the event at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It marked the first year of the rivalry Hoop-a-Thon, the first event of its kind.
“There’s nothing better in this area than involving Duke and Carolina,” Smith said. “Both by themselves are very powerful, but you bring them together, and you just feel like you can accomplish so much more within the hospitals and within our community.”
Fans registered for $25 online to shoot hoops for “Team Brice” or “Team Nolan.” Participants were given two minutes to shoot with all funds raised supporting TCA programs in development at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Duke Cancer Institute.
Approximately 100 people shot baskets on Saturday. Former Tar Heels in attendance included Shammond Williams, Jawad Williams and Joel James. Current UNC guard Brandon Robinson paid a visit, too.
Johnson and Smith shot with participants, and UNC players from past and present took pictures and interacted with fans.
Like Johnson, the event was also personal for another Tar Heel.
Shammond Williams, a standout guard at UNC in the late 1990s, lost his aunt to brain cancer in 1999, his second year in the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics.
“It let me know regardless of what you have and what you can do financially, some days, you have no control over things,” Williams said of his aunt Stephanie’s death. “That was very difficult on my family, … but you just have to continue to strive and be strong. I began to understand the magnitude of cancer.”
The impact of the event, and TCA’s efforts, were apparent as well.
Matthew Barry, 24, is a former pediatric leukemia patient who was treated in a TCA facility, the Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Institute at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s in Cleveland, Ohio. Barry was 19 when he was diagnosed and finished 40 months of chemotherapy plus blood transfusions in November 2017.
“Me being treated in a facility that (TCA) set up, I was very aware of what their mission was, what programs they try and get kids involved in, what their overall goal is,” Barry said.
“… We’re the forgotten age group because we’re not necessarily kids, but we’re not full-grown adults, so kinda the in-between. And people don’t necessarily think about teenagers or young adults getting cancer. So, it’s very important to create this sort of advocacy.”
After finishing treatments, Barry is paying it forward, much like Johnson and Smith. Barry is an AYA TCA ambassador.
Fundraising figures won’t be released for a few weeks, a TCA representative said. Donations are still being accepted online, though.
It’s only Johnson’s first year as a TCA ambassador himself, but he vows this is only the beginning of his involvement with the organization.
“It was just great to have people out here,” he said. “But we can do a lot more; we can do better. This is just my first year. I’m excited for what is happening, and I’m ready to do bigger and better things next year.”
Article provided by: https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2019/08/unc-brice-johnson-hoop-a-thon-cancer