BROOKLYN, N.Y. — For BYU, the opportunity to compete in the prestigious Coaches vs. Cancer Classic began on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago.
Coach Dave Rose was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor cancer in 2009. Since undergoing emergency surgery to remove the tumor, he has been cancer-free. In the fall of 2010, Rose was asked to speak on behalf of Coaches vs. Cancer on Capitol Hill to emphasize the importance of federal investment in cancer research, prevention and early detection programs.
It's a cause Rose has been involved in for more than 20 years, long before his own bout with cancer.
"While I was at Capitol Hill I got involved with a group of people who sponsored this tournament and put it together," Rose recalled. "We worked through that and got an invitation along with Florida State, Notre Dame and Saint Joseph's. I think all of those coaches are very active in Coaches vs. Cancer and that cause. That's one of the reasons we're involved in this tournament This is a great opportunity for our team to play in a fantastic tournament while supporting a cause that is very important to me. It’s inspiring to be involved with a group of coaches that are so passionate about trying to raise awareness and find a cure to this disease.”
Rose is one of more than 2,000 Division I, II and III college basketball coaches that belong to the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Coaches vs. Cancer is a national collaboration between the NABC and the American Cancer Society. The group has raised $50 million since it was founded to fund cancer research.
In the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic semifinals, BYU faces Florida State Friday (5 p.m., MT, TruTV) at the palatial, 18,103-seat Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The fact the Cougars earned an invitation to this tournament is a nod of respect for what Rose and his team have accomplished over the years, which includes six-straight 25-win seasons and six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
"You've kind of got to earn your mettle to get those games," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. "Sometimes there might be teams in a tournament that say, 'No, don't bring that school.' Right now, I think the stars have aligned."
Holmoe said he isn't very involved with the basketball schedule, as that is mostly handled by Rose and senior associate athletic director Brian Santiago.
"Dave's profile on the college scene has really increased over the last number of years," Holmoe said. "He is legitimate on the national scene now. I've always loved him from the day we hired him. But I think more and more people are getting to know him and know that he's a class act. He says the right things and runs a great program. The players are great representatives of the program. I think Jimmer (Fredette) did a lot to bring that BYU name back to the forefront again. Dave had his cancer and people realize that (Coaches vs. Cancer) does a really good job. They're a close, tight-knit group. They understand that what they're doing — and Dave's lived what he's doing. (They’re) raising money for guys like him. It just made sense. It's a team that represents so well and a coach that they like who is a cancer survivor."
The Cougars are thrilled to be part of this tournament.
"It's awesome," said senior guard Brock Zylstra. "You think about how far BYU has come, and how we've gained so much respect around the country to be invited to a tournament like this, and coach Rose building up this program to be national contenders. It will be cool to play at the Barclays Center. It's a great experience and a great opportunity for us."
An invitation to the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic has been years in the making.
"Those national tournaments are really hard to get into. There's a lot of them," Rose said. "For BYU, we're not eligible to participate in so many of them because their championship games are on Sunday. So you go through those national tournaments and try to find the ones that don't have Sunday play. Your players want to play on a national stage, in these types of tournaments."
This marks the first season that the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which started in 1995, has been played at the brand-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
"This tournament has always been played in Madison Square Garden," Rose said. "I think you're going to see a lot of games that traditionally were played in Madison Square Garden, Brooklyn's going to try to steal away those games. With those two arenas so close together, I think people here are wondering how they'll host all those events. I think our guys are really excited to play at Barclays Center. We would have been excited about the tradition of Madison Square Garden, too."
Like Rose, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton has a strong connection to cancer, having lost two brothers to the disease.
A few years after his battle with cancer, Rose is "back to normal," Holmoe said. "There is one characteristic that has changed about him, and that is his patience. He is a lot more patient. I think that helps him as a coach."
When he hired Rose eight years ago, Holmoe couldn't have imagined the Cougars achieving an impressive string of 25-win seasons and NCAA Tournament berths.
"What I did know was that he would be successful. He's a basketball guy that has passion," Holmoe said. "He's extremely competitive. There are a lot of those coaches in a lot of sports, but he gets it. He's a great fit at BYU. How did I know that when we hired him? You don't really know that until they become the coach and carry that mantle. But I saw him with the players. All of the players, from the stars to the redshirts, had a great respect for him. You could see that he had a serious side and a light side. And he also has a spiritual side. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve, but the players all know what he's all about. There are no secrets. They know who he is and he doesn't try to stand out too much. He lets the team and players do the talking."
Now, Rose's team has a chance to make a statement at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
"I feel really privileged that the NABC and the National Cancer Society would allow us to play in the tournament," Rose said. "It's a really prestigious tournament with great history. It's a chance for our players to go back East and play in Brooklyn. I couldn't be happier for our guys and for our staff Obviously, the cause for the tournament is really special to me and our family. Hopefully we can continue to raise funds, bring awareness, and someday we'll have a cure for this thing." Cougars and Seminoles on the air
BYU (2-0) vs. Florida State (1-1) Friday, 5 p.m., M
Coaches vs. Cancer Classic
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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