ALBANY — In the night between this year’s NCAA men’s basketball semifinal and championship rounds, UAlbany head coach Will Brown was set to receive the “Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award,” an honor to recognize the work his wife Jamie and he have done in support of the American Cancer Society.
That tournament was canceled weeks ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as was the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Guardians of the Game Awards ceremony originally slated to take place Sunday at which Brown would have been honored.
The need for help, though, wasn’t canceled or postponed.
Instead, that urgent need was only heightened.
So on the weekend he was to be honored, Brown instead spent it demonstrating why the coach from the mid-major America East Conference was joining a list of award winners that mostly includes coaches from major conferences such as Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Kansas’ Bill Self and North Carolina’s Roy Williams. Friday, the Browns started an initiative termed as the “Coaches vs. Cancer National Championship,” which aims to raise $100,000 for the American Cancer Society as it goes about its work during a health crisis. The cause can be donated to at this address: https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/cvcfinalfour.
As the initiative got underway, it started off strong with a $10,000 donation from the Browns.
“Jamie and I wanted to get it up and running, just to get it out there and then it will become national,” Brown said Sunday in a phone interview.
So, when @UAHOOPSWB & I heard that cancer patients were weighing the choice of going to treatment or being exposed to COVID-19, it💔. I knew this was what we could put our energy behind. Please help in any way that you can. Stay safe everyone 💜 https://t.co/bORejkEWFN— Jamie Brown (@BrownJamie23) April 4, 2020
Within the next few days and possibly as early as Monday, Anthony Marino — the interim executive vice president of the American Cancer Society Northeast Region — said information regarding the Browns’ fundraiser will be sent to each of the NABC’s member coaches. Already, though, it’s gaining stream through social media, where coaches such as Phil Martelli — a current Michigan assistant who was the head coach at Saint Joseph's for more than three decades — have helped share it.
“Hopefully, as we go, there will be more coaches to lend their names and likenesses to it, and record their own videos,” said Marino, referencing a video Brown recorded of himself championing the fundraiser. “Whatever support we can get is welcome.”
“We’re just getting started with this,” Brown said.
While the American Cancer Society regularly works to raise awareness and money, Marino — a Siena graduate who lives in Bethlehem — said the nation’s current health crisis has increased the organization’s need. The organization staffs a “Cancer Helpline” — 1-800-227-2345 — to answer questions of a wide variety, and Marino said that line annually receives approximately 1,000,000 calls; in the last month, Marino said approximately 80% of calls were related to how cancer patients needed to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the organization suspended regular operations in late March of its “Hope Lodges” that normally offer cancer patients and caregivers a free place to stay during treatment, but now is using those facilities to provide housing for health-care personnel.
“The need right now, to be quite honest, is higher than ever,” Marino said.
“COVID-19, the pandemic, it’s affected everybody, unfortunately,” Brown said. “One of the things I’ve learned, though, is that there’s a lot of cancer patients out there that have lost jobs, lost health-care insurance, don’t have money for treatments, or won’t leave their homes for treatment because they have compromised immune systems.”
Any size donation, Brown said, is powerful.
“The number [$10,000] that we donated was to get this thing started and to show our commitment to the cause,” Brown said. “But five, 10, 20 dollars — we just want people to jump on board. The amount is not of concern. I think the participation is what’s important.”
Please join Jamie and I in an effort to help cancer patients nationwide who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We can all be National Champions in the fight against cancer! #CoachesVsCancerIsntCanceledhttps://t.co/l0KzssK4Jo— will brown (@UAHOOPSWB) April 3, 2020
For more than a decade, Brown and his wife have served as co-hosts along with the men’s basketball head coaches at Siena and their respective wives for the annual “Coaches vs. Cancer Basket Ball,” a fall benefit event for the American Cancer Society. That event started when Fran McCaffery was leading the Saints, and McCaffery — whose son Patrick is a pediatric cancer survivor — has also been recognized as a Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award winner, as has former Siena head coach Paul Hewitt.
During a phone interview Sunday with The Daily Gazette, Brown didn’t bring up the award he was supposed to receive that night. It was Marino that mentioned the honor — “It was literally supposed to happen tonight” — Brown had earned.
“For Will to receive that award this year, we know it means a lot to him and Jamie, but it also means a lot to our staff here in the Capital Region,” Marino said. “It means the world to us.”
And Brown said he wants to reach out into that world in the coming weeks to raise more money.
“We’re just trying to connect as many people as we can,” Brown said. “If we could go north of [$100,000], that would be tremendous.”