There is a particular flow to a pre-game shootaround.
The basketball coaches are having conversations with the athletes, the players are taking shots and there is a certain light-hearted but serious feel to it.
And it’s exactly what Matthias Wilson needs on certain days.
“I’m honored to be part of this team,” he said. “When I found out there was a spot for me it was pretty special.”
The Mountain Pointe junior has had to grow up too while fast dealing with a battle no one, let alone a teenager, should have to endure and he has not been attending school very much since being diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma, a form a treatable cancer, in August.
So getting to spend a few hours with the Pride boys basketball team as one of the team managers can take his mind off what he has been through over the last four months.
“He loves every minute of it,” said his mother, Pat Wilson. “He comes back and talks about how this player is using his left hand better or how a strategy the coach put in worked. The most important thing is that fact that he is involved.
“The cancer has isolated him. He has been homebound for the most part and now he really has something to look forward to. He is seeing his friends and doing something that he really loves.”
There are no indications of Wilson’s illness while watching a Pride practice or game other than maybe cancer’s signature calling card of a bald head.
He is smiling and fist bumping while working hard to do whatever the team might need. He can be seen rebounding during the shootaround, getting water for the players, and keeping some of the team stats during games.
“He is a big part of our team,” senior guard Khari Holloway said. “He’s always got a smile on his face no matter what he is going through. He is always positive and it is learning we can learn from as a team. It rubs off on us.”
Most would think his escape into the real world from their Maricopa home would give him the lift of spirit, but on most days it is the other way around.
“He is such an inspiration for me,” Mountain Pointe coach Aaron Windler said. “I hope he is as much of an inspiration for (the players) as he is for the coaching staff. I told the boys the other day when we didn’t have a very good practice, on a day I knew Matthias was getting radiation, that I hoped they realized how lucky they were.
“They got to go to school and practice while he was at the doctor’s getting treatment. It should never be taken for granted because you never know.”
Wilson didn’t know what was going to happen when they made that doctor’s appointment back in August when he was lethargic and didn’t have much of an appetite.
The tests came back irregular and before they knew it they were heading to the oncology floor with his first hospital stay a week later. He had tumors in his neck, chest and abdomen.
“My parents understood before I did,” Wilson said. “It all happened so fast. I didn’t let me self get down. It has been easier for me to remain positive. Everything has gone so fast. I even got fortunate with the type of cancer I got. There are kids on (the cancer floor at Phoenix Children’s Hospital) that aren’t even close to being done with treatment, whereas I am getting close (to remission).”
With four cycles of chemo done and radiation close to being over, he is expected to have surgery on Jan. 13 to remove his spleen, which would signify remission has begun.
“His body has responded so amazingly and so quickly,” his mother said. “He is such an old soul for his age and his approach has helped him get through it.”
The hope is all that will be left soon will be his Make-A-Wish foundation trip.
Wilson originally sought out a visit to see NFL star Peyton Manning, but he was only allowed to bring his dad, meaning his younger brother, Andreas, who is a freshman at Mountain Pointe, would be left out.
It was important to Wilson to do something that included as many family members as possible because the illness shook the whole family, which also includes three foster children, to its core. His dad took time off work after the initial diagnosis, his mother ended up quitting her teaching job and Andreas, in Matthias’ mind, has missed out on precious family time because everyone’s attention is on the latter.
Instead of heading to Denver to meet No. 18, the family is off to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas during spring break.
“We told him to be selfish and go see Peyton Manning because that’s all he talks about,” his mom said. “He says no one prepares like Peyton does and that’s why he is great. That’s what we wanted him to do. We all have gone through it to a certain extent, but we are just bystanders.
“He made up his mind and did something for all us. It’s not surprising, knowing what a caring person he is, and we are going to have a great trip. We just wanted him to do something for himself.”
In Matthias’ mind, he already does each time he steps onto the basketball court.
“It’s everything I wanted it to be,” Wilson said before a recent practice. “The players and coaches have been so accepting. They let me get away from it all and be part of something that seemed impossible not too long ago.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.