When cancer arrived to exact its pound of flesh from the Martin family a few years ago, it did something that all who cross paths with it can understand: It changed their lives forever.
Among many reasons Frank Martin left Kansas State to take the job as men’s basketball coach at USC was so his wife, Anya, could be closer to her mother, who had ably fought a battle with breast cancer.
It is through their personal story with cancer — a story not unlike countless others — that the Martins came to host “The B Ball of the South,” a Coaches vs. Cancer benefit, at Colonial Life Arena on Friday night.
Among donated auction items: An authentic Cuban dinner for six prepared by Martin in his home, a guitar autographed by Darius Rucker, suites for a men’s and women’s basketball game and a spot on the bench as an honorary coach for a men’s and women’s game.
Before and during the Kentucky Derby fashion-inspired soiree, Anya shared how cancer had affected her family and how her mother’s battle and her husband’s scare with a pancreatic illness changed their perspectives.
Once in Columbia, Anya immediately went to work drawing up plans for fundraisers while her husband worked with the college basketball coaching fraternity through the Coaches vs. Cancer organization.
“We just figured at this point, anything can happen, we can lose a loved one at any time,” she said. “When we moved to Columbia, it was a way for us to put our mark out there. Columbia’s a great place and we love being here. We thought this was a great way to introduce us to the community and let them know that we’re not only here for you to do something for us, we’re here to do something for you as well.”
Norm Stewart, the former long-time Missouri coach and founder of Coaches vs. Cancer, was in attendance Friday, as was Martin’s former mentor, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who left behind four visiting recruits to dash to Columbia. Utah Jazz coach and former A.C. Flora standout Tyrone Corbin attended as well.
Former USC assistant and newly minted Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood even returned, joining the rest of Martin’s staff for the event. The USC coaching fraternity was represented by track and field coach Curtis Frye and football defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. Among many notables in attendance were Jeri Spurrier, Rucker and George Glymph.
Turnout was impressive, especially considering at the same time Vice President Joe Biden was the guest of honor at a convention center event, and the USC baseball team was playing host to No. 2 Vanderbilt before a near-sellout crowd at Carolina Stadium.
When given a leadership position in a community, Frank Martin said it was incumbent upon him to use that influence to make a positive impact.
“I’ve been blessed that I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I do every single day and with that, I’m given a platform,” Martin said. “If I kept that platform just for myself and winning games, then that doesn’t say a whole lot about me or my family or what we try to represent.
“From our first day in this city, this community has put its arms around us and it’s an obligation, a duty, something we have to do,” he continued. “To do things that make it better, that make it a stronger community, to help others in this community that maybe don’t have the ability that I have in life. … I wish more people did things like this. … If everyone with a platform would do a little bit more, we’d have a cure for cancer by now.”