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One Basketball Game, One Glorious Moment For Lauren Hill

Mariano Cuajao via flickr

The box score of the women’s basketball game Sunday between the Mount St. Joseph’s Lions and the Hiram Terriers, two Ohio teams at the non-scholarship Division III level will show Lauren Hill, a 19-year-old freshman scored four points in about four minutes of court time. 

Not what you’d call a rousing introduction to college basketball, but when you’ve endured what Lauren Hill has, a few minutes on the court can feel like a lifetime. Hill, a 5-foot-11 guard from Greendale, Ind., was an exceptional high school player and committed to play at Mount St. Joe’s last November on her 18th birthday. However, her motor skills deteriorated and she began to feel dizziness and severe headaches. She was diagnosed last November with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma.

DIPG is a cancer of the brain that has roots at the base of the brain stem that extends out through the nerves. The cancer is inoperable, and, in September, Lauren Hill got word from doctors that her cancer is terminal. They told her that she might not live long enough to see Christmas. All she wanted was a chance to play in a college game, but the tumor had so ravaged her system that Hill can no longer shoot with her dominant hand, the right, but with her left hand. She can’t turn her head from side-to-side because that makes her dizzy, so she must now move her entire upper body.

The season opener between the Lions and Terriers was scheduled for mid-November, but Hill would likely be too weakened to play by then. So, the two schools got the NCAA’s permission to move the game to Sunday. Then, Hill’s remarkable story began to get out, and things started happening. Officials at Xavier, a Division I Cincinnati school, offered to let the two teams play their game at an arena that holds 10,000, so people could come to see Lauren Hill play one time. The game sold out in 45 minutes. Then, big name athletes from across the sports landscape pledged their support to Hill’s cause. WNBA players Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne lent their backing, as well as NBA players LeBron James and AmareStoudemire. In addition, at the urging of Mark Emmert, NCAA schools have been donating jerseys with the No.22 – Hill’s number – to Mount St. Joe’s to auction on her behalf. Fox Sports agreed to carry the game on national television and to stream it online. 

Then, Sunday came, and Hill got the start. She scored on a lay-up 17 seconds into the game and at halftime, former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who retired last year with early onset Alzheimer’s, presented her with an award for her courage. Mount St. Joe’s won the game, with Hill scoring the final basket with five seconds left. When the game ended, she received another award for courage, this one named for Olympic great Wilma Rudolph. Someone handed a mike to Hill and she told the crowd, none of whom dared leave before she spoke, that quote “Today has been the best day ever” unquote and quote “I don’t know what to say but thank you.”

Let the record reflect that the first basket of the 2014-2015 college basketball season was scored by Lauren Hill, a young woman who might not even live long enough to see who gets to hoist the title trophy aloft. But her legacy of courage and dignity is worth more than a thousand championships.