Blocking Cancer: How UAB Men’s Basketball is Fighting to Find a Cure

The statistics are staggering.

More than 15.5 million Americans are currently affected by some form of cancer and another 1.7 million cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2018. Approximately 609,640 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2018, which translates to roughly 1,670 deaths per day.

Doctors, scientists and researchers across the globe work feverishly around the clock to find a cure for a disease that is expected to affect 19 million Americans by 2024. The good news is national expenditures for cancer care in the United States totaled nearly $125 billion in 2010 and could reach $156 billion in 2020.

It’s simple. The more money raised for cancer research increases the likelihood a cure will be discovered, and the UAB men’s basketball program has developed a partnership with the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research centered around blocking prostate cancer.

“Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer and leads to the second-most deaths in men,” Mike Slive said. “This year alone, over 160,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and one in every seven men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Our foundation is off to a flying start, but the energy and commitment by the UAB players and coaches is really extraordinary and I thank them all very much.”

The initiative spotlights UAB and its prowess for blocking shots at an extremely high rate, as the Blazers have proven to be one of the top shot blocking teams in the NCAA since the start of the 2014-15 season. In fact, UAB has the sixth-most blocks of any team in the NCAA during that time with 654, averaging 163.5 per year.

Blazer head coach Robert Ehsan, his entire coaching staff and all 11 student-athletes have pledged to donate a specific amount for every blocked shot and charge taken during Conference USA play. All toll, the UAB basketball program is scheduled to donate $63 for every charge and $32 for all blocked shots against league competition. With 57 blocks and 20 charges to the team’s credit through 15 conference games, the Blazers have already raised $3,084 and still have three games remaining in the regular season.

“It’s our mission as coaches of young people to lead our student-athletes to success in the classroom and on the court, but to also use our platform to impact our community and potentially even in the world,” Ehsan said. “Partnering with the Mike Slive Foundation has provided us with an unbelievable opportunity to do that and we’re extremely grateful. Our hope is that one day we will find a cure for prostate cancer and our players will be able to tell their sons or fathers or uncles that they were a part of a campaign that donated the money that helped find a cure for cancer.”

Every dollar raised by the Blazers will remain in Birmingham and all donations will go to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is recognized around the world as a leader in developing innovative monoclonal antibody approaches to cancer therapy. The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center offers a full array of treatment options from multidisciplinary clinics filled with experts from across cancer fields to the latest state-of-the-art technology.

The center is home to an outstanding faculty of more than 330 physicians and researchers, many of whom are internationally and nationally recognized for their expertise in oncology. These individuals have pioneered advances in chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and nutrition.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of cancer fundraising efforts for a long period of time during my career, but I have never seen a foundation hit the ground running as quickly as the Mike Slive Foundation,” UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Dr. Michael Birrer said. “It is rare to see a group of young men, particularly student-athletes, who are dedicated to this cause and are participating in it, not only by blocking shots, but with their own personal resources. That’s a very special aspect of this effort and we’re very proud to be partnering with them to raise money for prostate cancer research.”

UAB coaches and student-athletes had the opportunity to tour the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center on Thursday for an in-depth look at how researchers and doctors are working to eliminate cancer as a major public health problem. The visit also provided a glimpse into exactly how and where their contributions will be utilized.

“It’s special knowing we are playing for something bigger and more powerful than the names on the back of our jerseys,” Blazer sophomore guard Nate Darling said. “I lost my grandfather to cancer when I was 17 years old and I’ve seen what the disease can do to people, so I was excited to be able to participate in such a unique initiative to raise money for cancer research.”

So, how did the partnership first come about?

It all started in 2012 when Ehsan was hired as an assistant coach at UAB. He accepted the job site unseen and was stepping foot in the state of Alabama for the first time in his life.

“I remember my first day on the job at UAB, one of my former co-workers at Maryland called me and said that there are two people in Alabama you need to make a connection with — Mike Slive and Paul Finebaum,” Ehsan said.

Ehsan followed that advice and sent Slive a hand-written letter expressing an interest in building a relationship with the former Conference USA and SEC commissioner. The two were later introduced by a mutual colleague and have since become close friends.

“I consider Mike a mentor to me and he’s been a great supporter of UAB basketball,” Ehsan said. “His knowledge and experience, not only in Birmingham, but all over the landscape of college athletics is invaluable. Now he texts me after every UAB game, win or lose, and tells me his granddaughter is crying when the Blazers are down at halftime.”

The blocking cancer campaign culminates on Saturday, March 3 when the Blazers host WKU on Senior Night at Bartow Arena. UAB will donate $2 from every ticket sold to the Mike Slive Foundation and present a check to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center totaling the amount raised by the basketball program. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Cancer, UAB basketball and the Mike Slive Foundation are coming for you.