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A Sea of Blue Exclusive: John Calipari Takes a Break From Basketball

Sometimes real life intrudes upon that which we strive for.  Sometimes real life demands that we take stock of what is really important.  Sometimes real life brings out the humanity that resides in all of us.  And sometimes real life makes us realize that the games we play, watch, coach, cheer, and write about, are only temporary distractions, ready to be tossed aside when the trials and tribulations that come with living on this planet come knocking on our door.

Imagine if you will, a 16-year old high school sophomore, a three-sport athlete (basketball, baseball, cross country) at a school with over 2,600 students ... Imagine that, during a basketball practice, the athlete begins to experience pain in his leg ... Imagine the next day the athlete feeling uncomfortable, experiencing tingling in his hands ... Imagine, by the weekend following, the athlete is unable to move his right arm or right leg ...  Imagine the next day, a Monday, the athlete is not able to swallow.

If you can, imagine the panic present in the hearts and minds of the athlete's parents as they take him to the hospital to have him evaluated.  What must have been going through their minds? 

Imagine the doctors telling you that the most likely scenario is meningitis, or a stroke ... but both of those ailments were quickly ruled out.  Then, imagine an MRI revealing an inoperable brain tumor (inoperable because of the proximity of the tumor to the brain stem).  Imagine the pain, heartache, and anger the parents of the athlete must have felt.  Suddenly, completely by surprise and without humanity, your 16-year old son, an athlete of the highest order, is fallen by such a terrible fate. 

Imagine?  I can't even begin to imagine.

Well, the tragic circumstance I've recounted is exactly what happened to young Kevin Massey.  Kevin, a student at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, is currently undergoing radiation treatments in an effort to rid his body of the tumor.  But, the story doesn't end there ...

You see, Kevin is a huge Kentucky basketball fan.  His parents, Ruth and Dwain Massey, are transplanted Kentuckians, so of course they carried with them their love of UK athletics, and passed their fondness for all things Big Blue down to their son.  And no, Kevin hasn't lived quietly as a UK fan, he displays his love for the 'Cats for all to see, even though he is surrounded by Hoosier hysteria.

Because of this, Kevin's high school basketball coach, Mark James, who is friends with former John Calipari assistant Ed Schilling (now a high school coach in Indianapolis), contacted Mr. Schilling to ascertain if coach Calipari might be kind enough to send Kevin an autographed UK hat.

Calipari did them one better.  Unbeknownst to Kevin, Calipari, touched by the story related to him by Ed Schilling, took a plane to Indianapolis and surprised the youngster by personally visiting him in the hospital.  As Cal walked through the door, tears began streaming down the cheeks of the extremely ill young man. 

Calipari presented Kevin with the game ball from the Alabama game, and on the ball, the autographs of the University of Kentucky basketball team members.  He also presented Kevin with UK jerseys, t-shirts, and caps.  Calipari spent about an hour with Kevin, and so moved by the young man's plight, after visiting with the family, he led them in a prayer just before he left.

Mark James, Kevin's high school coach, had this to say about Calipari's visit: "He (Calipari) came up without any newspapers in Indiana or Kentucky knowing about it.  He came out of the kindness of his heart.  It was the last time Kevin has smiled or showed any emotion.  Coach Calipari has even called a few times to check up on Kevin.  All the things you hear about coaches at that level doing, and this is just something you never hear about.  This whole thing (the Calipari visit) has just meant so much to the family, it's a really big deal to them."

Without fanfare, without press, and without notice, John Calipari chose to not send the young man a note, an act in and of itself deserving of praise, but rather, the UK coach out of his love for his fellow man, went to Indy to visit a very sick young man.  In the middle of an historic basketball season, Calipari dropped that which matters most to UK fans, alumni, and players alike, and journeyed north to put a smile on Kevin's face, and hope in his heart.

The generosity of spirit, and time John Calipari opted to give to this family is to be commended.  Coaches are bombarded with requests to send notes, and autographs to people unlucky enough to be struck with various and sundry illnesses.  But the Kentucky basketball coach, who is the unofficial King of the Commonwealth, is absolutely deluged under the myriad of requests for his time.  Only a few months ago, Calipari was kind enough to take the time to send my father-in-law, who is suffering from esophageal cancer, a very nice note.  An act I will forever be grateful for.  But the fact that he took the time to travel the few hundred miles to Indianapolis to visit Kevin only reinforces, in my mind, his love of people.  People he had no idea existed until told of their dire circumstances.

Remember this folks, regardless of Cal's coaching acumen, we should all feel lucky to have such an honorable man leading the University of Kentucky basketball program.  Even though coach Cal might be unhappy with me when/if he learns I've written this story, I felt his act of compassion deserved the same attention a pre-game breakdown, or post-game analysis is given.  Sometimes sports are thoroughly dwarfed and overshadowed by the kindness of its participants.  And this is one of those times. 

I encourage all who read this to follow the link to Kevin's Caring Bridge page.  Please leave a note of support, it will only take a minute, and will go a long way in letting the Massey family know the entire Big Blue Nation is rooting for their son to conquer this most unfortunate, life-challenging illness. 

Since Calipari's visit the Wednesday after the Super Bowl, Kevin has experienced swelling in the brain, as well as bleeding in the brain.  Only last week he was given 24-48 hours to live, but thankfully he conquered that prediction.  Perhaps with the love and support of all UK fans, as well as the prayers one may feel led to offer, Kevin will overcome this terrible affliction.

To view photos of Kevin, as well as the picture Kevin took with coach Calipari, go here.  And on behalf of all of the Big Blue Nation, I say to you, Kevin ... continue to fight, fight, fight!

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!