MIAMI - Barry University's men's basketball team will play in the Division 2 National Championship Tournament this weekend. Even though the team has reached this level before, this time it's different. The players are being inspired by their coach, who is facing a personal challenge off the court.
There's only one thing strong enough to keep Cesar Odio off the basketball court - cancer. Odio says, "I'd lost like 50 pounds. I was missing hair, and I was going through a tough battle, but my goal was always to come back and coach."
Two years ago, Barry University's head basketball coach was diagnosed with leukemia. The weight loss, the chemo, so bad...it forced him to sit out all of last season.
Odio recalls, "There were times there where I thought I wouldn't be coaching ever again. There were times that I thought I would never be around."
But Odio beat the odds, and returned to his team at the start of this season.
Barry University Senior Bryan Chiverton says, "When that happened, it's just like...it hurt bad. We all kind of rallied together and said we're going to do something special for him." Chiverton says Odio is like a father to him.
And even though coach never used cancer to motivate the team, the players did. Chiverton remembers, "We have meeting with like just the team, where we'll talk about what we need to do and we remind ourselves that we are doing this for Coach Odio."
And so far, so good. This weekend, Barry will play in the NCAA Division II National Championship Tournament. Odio says, "For this season to turn out the way it did has been almost magical."
Coach Odio's leukemia in remission, so he still takes pills daily and goes for treatment every 4 weeks, but on the court his players say he's still the same high energy coach he used to be.
Chiverton says, "He'll get really fired up, he'll come at us, but now sometimes he's more laid back, he'll say what he has to say but you can still see that he wants it. He loves basketball more than anybody I've ever met."
Odio constantly tells his team to play every play like it's their last, and now he lives that way too, advising, "Everyday I wake up, I tell you I open up my eyes and just say 'Thank you."
Reported by: Adam Kuperstein/WTVJ