BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The coach of a Burlington basketball team says his boys can go the distance, a message for others struggling with serious illness.
"I can teach you a good jump shot. I can teach you how to dribble," coach Sam Jackson said. "I'm more pressed to teach you to become a better person."
These past six months put that to the test. In December, the team learned terrifying news about teammate Rejos Neopanui.
"I was feeling this small thing in my armpit. I didn't think anything of it. I thought it was just some extra muscle," said Neopanui. "I kept going through football season, and it just started to grow and grow."
Weeks later, the then 14-year-old was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma.
"It's got to be a coach's worst nightmare," Jackson said.
Teammates say they were devastated but refused to give up on their teammate.
"We would go over to his house, and our coach would pick us up. We would just drive around and talk to him," said Michel Ndayishimiye, a teammate.
His teammates continue their support, with Neopanui back on the court. Next week, the team is flying to Orlando to compete for the national title.
"We thought it would be a good way for us to pay him back," said Jackson.