Oct. 9, 2013
The basketball paths of Tyler Jones and Kevin Ollie intersected in Hartford during the 1990s, Jones as the head coach of the Connecticut Pride of the Continental Basketball Association and Ollie as a player on the team. On Nov. 4, East Hartford native Jones will return to his home state with his Concordia University-Chicago men's basketball team, where it will play an exhibition game against the University of Connecticut Huskies, under second-year coach Ollie.
The contest at the XL Center, however, is more than just a reunion of old friends. As was the case with Concordia-Chicago's game at St. John's University last Nov. 6, a "Coaches Against Cancer" theme will command the spotlight. Last year's contest in New York City brought together Jones and Steve Lavin, both prostate cancer survivors.
"Shortly after our game at St. John's, I reached out to Kevin in hopes of continuing what Coach Lavin and I had started," said Jones, noting that members of Ollie's family as well as his predecessor, renowned UConn coach Jim Calhoun, were also fellow prostate cancer survivors. "Kevin and the rest of the UConn people were very receptive to what we wanted to do, and most aspects of setting up this year's event came together very quickly."
At the game, Jones will also be introduced to Victor Lawson, a New Jersey resident who saw Jones' story on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and was motivated to research proton therapy when he was diagnosed with cancer. Today, Lawson is cancer-free and is excited about meeting Jones. The feeling is mutual.
"When I first allowed ESPN's cameras inside my home in May, 2012, my hope was that my going public with my story would inspire and empower others to get themselves checked out, just like Steve Lavin's story was the catalyst for me going to my doctor," said Jones. "When I was approached about meeting Mr. Lawson, I was excited beyond words. I told them, `Let's make that meeting happen.' "
There is no doubt that the meeting with Lawson and the other events surrounding the game will provide a lifetime of memories for Jones and his Cougar players. But Jones will also savor the moment during the game when he looks down to the opposing bench and sees Ollie, his former player, who was part of the Pride's CBA championship team of 1999.
"It would be a very proud moment for me even if it were just a basketball game," said Jones. "But taking part in this type of an event with Kevin and fighting the battle against cancer together is a very special blessing."