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Friday, Nov. 23, 2012

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All for one: The Sendai 89ers, including Sam Willard (second from left), wear white bracelets to support South Dakota teenager Conrad Adam's battle with cancer. Adams attends the same high school that Willard went to in Pierre, South Dakota. SENDAI 89ERS / BJ-LEAGUE

HOOP SCOOP

89ers lend support to S. Dakota teen battling cancer


The Sendai 89ers are lending a helping hand to a 17-year-old South Dakota student's fight against cancer.

Ed Odeven

Halfway around the world, Conrad Adam, a high school basketball player, has his own team of supporters, the 89ers. In fact, they are part of a larger throng affectionately known as Conrad's Clan, including Sendai big man Sam Willard, who attended T.F. Riggs High in Pierre, South Dakota, where Adam is a student.

Adam's left leg was amputated above the knee in October at Mayo St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, and he now has a prosthetic. It's a major life-altering experience for anyone, especially for someone filled with youthful vigor. Going through chemotherapy sessions can be a daunting task for anyone, but the encouragement from Conrad's Clan has given him a big boost.

"Conrad has a journal online that he posts updates on that give people an idea of how he is doing," Willard told Hoop Scoop. "That's how I keep up with how he's doing. I'm also in contact with my (former) basketball coach (Terry Becker) and he has told me that Conrad's good attitude continues to amaze everyone each day. From what he's posted, you can tell that he is being very positive through this extremely tough situation and his attitude is amazing.

"He is still going through treatment right now, and his spirits are high, (so) all we can do is hope that his health continues to improve."

The 89ers (3-7), who travel to face the Gunma Crane Thunders this weekend, are having a difficult season. But, to their credit, they haven't lost sight of the impact sports can have on people's lives, as well as communities near and far.

"Sam recently autographed a jersey and sent it back to be auctioned off to help raise money for Conrad," 89ers coach Bob Pierce said, illustrating that point.

Every dollar can help as medical bills pile up for the Adam family.

Willard, who turned pro in 2011 after averaging a team-best 14.8 points and 10.5 rebounds as a college senior for the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, is reminded every day to take nothing for granted.

"Hearing about (Adam's battle with cancer) had an affect on me, because it makes you realize just how lucky we really are to be able to do this every day," the 205-cm Willard said about his chosen profession. "No matter how bad things may be, they could always be worse.

"I don't know if me playing inspires Conrad or his family, but I will say that his strength inspires me and a lot of other people. It takes a lot of strength and fight to be able to handle something like this, and I can't even begin to imagine what it feels like for them every day. I just hope that what little I can do does help, because just seeing a 17-year-old kid show as much courage as him has already helped me."

Fittingly, the 24-year-old Willard made those remarks just a few days before Thanksgiving. And Adam's story illustrates how important community involvement is in any society.

Pictures are powerful symbols of every imaginable human emotion, and the 89ers recognized the value of a group photo as a symbol of solidarity for Adam. The team posed for a photograph with all of them wearing white wrists bands with the message "Conrad's Clan: No One Fights Alone" and posted it on a Facebook book dedicated to Adam.

Perhaps that photograph will also inspire others to give support to those battling illnesses, athletes and citizens in all walks of life.

"My role in all of this is that I support Conrad," Willard explained. "There are many other people that have done more important things for him than I have. I am just doing whatever I can to help. There has been support from all over, especially in the Pierre community. The people have really taken it upon themselves to show their support for Conrad and his family."

Adam's high school friends established Conrad's Clan during the summer, and those $2 wrist bands (with the sales money going directly to the Adam family) have been a win-win item.

"Conrad's Clan says that many wrist bands have been ordered from high school basketball players across the state," reported The Capital Journal, a South Dakota newspaper. "The reach of the group hasn't stopped in South Dakota, people from Pennsylvania and even Florida have shown support."

What's more, that support has continued to spread around the United States. Exhibit A: Swimming legend Michael Phelps autographed a Conrad's Clan bracelet in New Orleans.

For Willard, his involvement in this project has been an unforgettable reminder that all of us can make a difference.

"When people go through terrible things like this, it's always tough to know how to show your support in the right way," Willard admitted. I know that a picture won't fix anything with Conrad's health. But just being able to show him that there are people that are supporting him, that is the important thing."

Willard believes the 89ers have a similar role — responsibility, really — as community ambassadors in Tohoku, including in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, where the team faced the Yokohama B-Corsairs last weekend. Kesennuma's recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami is a slow, laborious process

"Our game can't fix what happened to those people with the tsunami, but if we can just show them that they are not alone and that we support them, then we have done our jobs," said Willard, who's averaging 13.9 points and 11.7 rebounds (fifth-highest total in the league) for Sendai. "Even if you can just get a smile out of someone that day, it's better than doing nothing."

With Thanksgiving on his mind, Willard took time to reflect on the lessons he's learned while observing Adam's battle with cancer and the way Conrad's Clan has galvanized more than just a few folks from his South Dakota community.

"It has just reminded me once again to be thankful for every day that I get to do this," he said, referring to basketball. "This just shows how fast it can all come to a stop. I need to play as hard as I can every time I step onto that court because there are some people that would kill for the opportunity to be able to do what I get to do every day. Conrad is just a reminder to enjoy every day of basketball I can."

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For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ConradsClan or send an email to conradsclan@gmail.com



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