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An athlete who truly has his priorities correctPosted Wednesday, January 23, 2008, at 7:26 PM
Sometimes it's easy to lose perspective on what level of importance sports has in the world.
When your overwhelmed in the media by the Sportscenters, internet and magazine coverage of the dunks, touchdown dances and crazy salaries by made by professional athletes, it tends to be easy to forget how important the human aspect is.
So it was one late night as I lay half awake and flipping through the endless channels with nothing on that I stumbled across a replay of a segment being played on the Big Ten Network.
When you think about Big Ten basketball, the first schools that come to mind tend to be your Indiana's, Purdues and Michigan State's of the conference. Even though Evanston, Ill. isn't that far away, Northwestern isn't the first school that comes to mind when you think basketball. So you don't hear much about their players, regardless of how talented they might be. But after watching this segment on T.V., I'll always remember Kevin Coble.
Coble, the basketball player, is a highly talented kid that was named to the All-Freshman team last season after becoming the first freshman in school history to lead the team in scoring and rebounding. The sophomore scored 13.4 ppg. and averaged more than five rebounds per contest. He was going to be a very key player for this team during the 2007-08 season.
But Coble's life took an unexpected turn during the summer when his mother Carlys was diagnosed with cancer. Scheduled to undergo cancer treatment in Phoenix in October, Kevin Coble turned his back on the sport he loved to be with the woman he loved so much more.
Coble took a leave of absence from the basketball team and is still enrolled at Northwestern, maintaining his school work via online courses as well as daily phone calls with professors.
Instead of starring on the court for the Wildcats, Coble watched his team on television with his parents, Randy and Carlys in Phoenix.
While it wasn't always easy, the decision was one that Coble would make again. Coach Bill Carmody commented recently that Coble is a kid that has his priorities straight.
"He's a special kid and he thinks of other people first. He realizes that basketball is very important to him but this is his priority No. 1. He left no doubt that that is it," said Carmody in an interview with ESPN.
Kevin's feelings were made very clear in a plaque that he presented his mom recently.
"Over the years, she changed in my eyes, only from being the best mom in the world to being one of the most amazing women I have ever met."
And Carlys still gets tears in her eyes when she thinks about those words and the emotions behind them.
Carlys is her son's biggest fan and was a regular in the stands watching Kevin in her own jersey. She was determined to make that trip back to courtside and again watch her son torment the opposition.
Diagnosed with cancer in July, Carlys set her sights on being able to see Kevin hit the court with the Wildcats for the Big Ten opener on Jan. 2 when the Wildcats faced Penn State. With a goal to shoot for, Carlys went through one of her last treatments in Phoenix on Dec. 27 before she moved back to Evanston so Kevin could return to the team. Her last treatment took place in the Chicago-area on Jan. 17.
According to Kevin and Carlys, there was little doubt that she would be there in the stands for that Big Ten opener.
"One of the wonderful things in life is watching Kevin play basketball. I love all those kids [on NU]. That's my golden ring to grab for," said Carlys in an ESPN interview.
Not many college kids would decide to forgo their freedom of schedule and fun with friends to stay at home with a sick relative, mother or not.
When diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer that had entered her lymph nodes, Carlys wasn't surprised when Kevin decided to be with her. Kevin was there when she was diagnosed and knew then that his basketball career easily took a backseat.
The family has been surprised by the outpouring from the Northwestern Community, receiving calls and cards as well as donations in their name to breast cancer research.
But what really was special is seeing the response from coaches and players when Coble returned to the court.
Tubby Smith had encouraging words and told Kevin that he had been praying for his mom and even various players have approached Coble with the same kind words. Those thoughts from, not just his teammates, but other teams, was surprising to me as I watched this special.
Sometimes college athletes might get a bit of a bad rap as being self absorbed, but I was impressed to see the concern on these kids' faces as they talked to Coble. It showed me how much of a family this sport can be and the unity people can display in the face of such a dreaded disease.
On Jan. 2, Carlys Coble was indeed in the stands for her son's return to the court. After missing his team's first nine games, Coble had 11 points in his return though the Wildcats dropped a 79-68 decision.
But the real winner was a woman who has beaten this disease and in bringing up a son that any parent could be proud of.
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