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Posts Tagged ‘Geno Auriemma’

When UConn takes the court tonight in Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on the 11th-ranked Tar Heels, it will be facing a different team than the one it beat by 41 points.

The biggest reason for the difference is the return of forward Jessica Breland, who missed all of last season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It proved the biggest challenge in her life.

“I don’t think I ever encountered anything like that in my life,” she said of feeling helpless. “I could say it was up there with going through treatments; having that mindset of going into the hospital and sitting there and not be able to do anything but get chemotherapy.”

Breland saw how much her teammates missed on the court as North Carolina went 19-12 and lost in the first rounds of both the ACC and NCAA tournaments a year after winning 28 games. Through six months of chemotherapy, all she could think about was her return.

She was cleared to resume basketball-related activities last February, but the going was tough. Between chemotherapy, and the emotional and physical tolls taken on her.

“I’ve (had) been thinking about my first game ever since I was going through the treatments,” she said. “Now that I’m getting back on the court, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ I haven’t been on the court in a long time so I don’t know what to expect or how to feel.”

The cancer was detected early enough that it is in remission, and according to her coach Sylvia Hatchell, Breland won’t be “cancer free for five more years.”

“It’s just a joy to have her back out there,“ Hatchell said. “She’s such an inspiration to the rest of the girls, especially when she steps in there and takes charges with all that she’s been through. She’s a come back kid.”

As a result of Breland’s return to health, a foundation was started in her honor at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center called the Jessica Breland Comeback Kid Foundation. All the funds go to the pediatric division at the center.

Breland, a senior, has started all but one game this season and is second on the Tar Heels in scoring at 13.2 points per game — nearly a point off her career best — and leads the team with 8.0 rebounds per game.

On top of the numbers, she was included in the list of finalists for the Wooden Award.

“That should be an inspiration to every kid playing basketball,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “Every person that’s not even involved in sports. I think it goes to show you that part of getting well, part of getting healthy in life is your outlook and how positive you are and the kind of attitude you have, Obviously, she has a tremendously positive personality and had a passion for wanting to get back to playing basketball and was able to do it.”

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