- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) - The shot hung in the air and time seemed to stand still.

Spencer Wilson wasn’t looking at the scoreboard clock. Time is relative for the 17-year- old point guard on the Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School basketball team.

“I took two steps,” Wilson said. “I didn’t dribble. I just heaved it.”

He watched the ball arc toward the rafters, and the only sound was the buzzer going off. The game was over. And yet it wasn’t.

Wilson’s shot beat Mount Airy, but in many ways, that ball is still hanging in the air.

Wilson is a two-time cancer survivor, a remarkable young man with his entire life ahead of him. There was a time when that wasn’t certain, when he had a clock ticking in his head, a constant reminder of his prognosis. Six months.

Wilson was 13 when he first noticed the lump on his left knee. He didn’t think much of it at the time. He was just a kid from High Point who played baseball and basketball and went to church on Sundays and to Ferndale Middle School on weekdays.

He didn’t know the meaning of the word when he first heard it: rhabdomyosarcoma.

Wilson soon found himself undergoing surgery. Then came the chemo treatments. His hair fell out. He lost weight.

“That was in 2009,” he said. “I grew up fast. I learned to value every moment of life that I have.”

He still carries a thought with him that he took from the darkest hours.

“Dedicate yourself to the day,” he said this week, sitting in the bleachers not far from where he let the shot go. “Because tomorrow’s never promised.”

Everyone wanted his time following the shot. CBS News sent a crew to Kernersville to talk to Wilson and his team about the Mount Airy game. Local news stations sent reporters to the McGuinness practices all week, everyone wanting to hear Wilson’s story.

Josh Thompson, the boys coach at McGuinness, said the experience was powerful for everyone.

“Faith,” Thompson said. “That’s what this has been all about. I don’t think the Lord cares who wins basketball games, but I know that he cares about us, his people.”

Thompson managed the week as best he could. It was exam week at the Catholic high school off N.C. 66, and he tried to keep his players focused on what’s important. But with everything swirling around them, it wasn’t easy.

“Focus on what’s important,” Thompson told his team as it gathered around him. “Forget everything outside the focus of our preparation. Concentrate on exams and getting ready for the game.”

The shot Wilson took is on YouTube. He was featured on the “CBS Evening News” on Sunday, and another segment was scheduled for the CBS “On the Road.” WXII filmed its “Athlete of the Week” segment from the gym, WFMY profiled Wilson, and newspapers from all across the region wrote the story of the kid and the shot.

The story started more than four years ago.

“August of 2009,” Bill Wilson said this week as he waited inside the McGuinness gym for his son’s practice to end. “We noticed the lump on the side of his leg, near his knee, but we didn’t think anything of it. But then it started to grow. We went in and had it checked.”

The biopsy came back. The tumor was malignant.

“Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer of the bone and muscles,” he said. “That started six months of chemo treatments and all the effects.”

Nausea. Mouth sores. Hair loss. Weakness.

“Faith,” Wilson said. “That’s what got us through it all. Our family has a strong faith, and that was paramount in his ability to fight through this. We’re so thankful for the community that wrapped its arms around him and our family and for Wake Forest University and Baptist Hospital. They played a big part in it. Between medicine and a lot of prayer, that’s a pretty good combination.”

The cancer went away. Spencer Wilson went back to the basketball court.

For six months, he grew stronger. His game came back. He was always a good basketball player, but after the cancer, he was even better. Wilson was invited to prestigious basketball camps where his name spread and college coaches began to notice the kid with the savvy court presence and the deadly shot from outside.

Spencer Wilson was back. His grades soared. He grew to 5 feet 11. He made AAU teams and played travel ball, eventually transferring from Wesleyan Christian Academy to Bishop McGuinness, where he would make National Honor Society. He became active in Beta Club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, volunteering at church and in the community, all the while holding a 4.3 grade- point average and doing what he loved most.

“Playing basketball,” he said.

And then the cancer came back. With a vengeance.

“The second time it was worse,” his dad said. “It had come back, and it had moved into his lymphatic system and was growing. We knew it wasn’t good.”

The doctors gave Spencer six months, maybe a year, to live. They gave him a 7 percent chance to survive it.

That was two years ago. The treatments worked. The medicine and the prayer pulled him through somehow. Wilson stopped worrying about time and clocks. Time became relative.

And then last week, time became the story.

Wilson’s coach had an idea.

“I got the idea from a coach at LSU who came up with the idea of having a Dedication Game,” Thompson said. “Every player dedicated the game to someone else, a friend, someone struggling with an injury, parents, grandparents. Wilson dedicated the game to a kid who was fighting cancer, a young man from Davie County named Josh Rominger.”

Rominger died last year after the two struck up a friendship.

“I think about him every day,” Wilson said.

He was thinking about him during the Mount Airy game when he wrote the name on a basketball and passed it to a teammate who then wrote another name on the ball and then another and then another. The ball stayed on the bench. The players touched it during timeouts, including one late in the game with Bishop McGuinness trailing by three.

That’s when it happened.

Wilson had already hit a long 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime, yet all looked hopeless when Mount Airy went ahead late in the extra period. But with 2.2 seconds to play, Mount Airy, leading by one, missed a free throw.

The ball bounced off the rim to center Will Gardner, who threw an outlet pass to Wilson, who took two steps and let it fly.

“I’ve been through some things that a lot of kids haven’t,” he said. “I take it as a blessing that God’s given me wisdom from the things I’ve been through. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I learned so much.”

He was back in his element, playing for so many people, playing for his school and his teammates, his family and friends, for Josh Rominger and for so many kids who will never get a chance for a shot of a lifetime.

“It felt like a dream when it was in the air,” he said.

The ball did come down. It came down from above on an angelic arc, softly kissing the backboard and then slipping through the net without a sound. The clock read 0:00.

A shot for the ages after time had expired.

It was somehow fitting.

Spencer Wilson was carried off the court on the shoulders of his friends.


Information from: News & Record, https://www.news-record.com



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