Over the past seven years, Roy Williams’ Fast Break Against Cancer Breakfast has earned $1.2 million for cancer research at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Speakers have included former Tar Heels forward Brad Daugherty, current UNC assistant coach Hubert Davis, "SportsCenter" anchor Stuart Scott and soccer star Mia Hamm. Auction items have included Tar Heels-signed basketballs, artwork, ticket packages and unique collectibles.
But considering Williams’ surgery Wednesday to remove a tumor from his right kidney, this year’s Oct. 12 event could take on even more significance.
“He’s always been very personally involved with this event," said Debbie Dibbert, director of external affairs for the Lineberger Center. “… This year, his family, his staff, the members of Carolina’s basketball family, I think all of us will also be thinking about what he’s going through right now.”
Williams was released from the hospital Thursday afternoon, and his doctor said in a statement Wednesday that the Hall of Fame coach should be back on the court by the time the Tar Heels open practice Oct. 13. He also said he expects Williams “to coach this season and for years to come.” But it could take up to a week to determine whether the tumor, which was removed during a 3 1/2-hour surgery, is malignant or benign. And that could impact whether another tumor, in his left kidney, will need to be removed next month.
But even before Williams’ tumors were diagnosed, he spent years fighting the disease.
He’s worked with Coaches vs. Cancer and the American Cancer Society.
He’s also been a regular participant at the Dick Vitale Gala, which has raised millions for the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Williams was a guest of honor at the event in May 2011, and said beforehand that he cried every time he attended.
“He’s been a vital factor in raising money; he’s been to most of our galas, we honored him one year, and he talked one year about how important it is to be able to give back, to bring a smile to people’s faces, to help people," said Vitale, an ESPN college basketball analyst who added that he’s hoping and praying that Williams’ tumor is benign.
“I’ve introduced him to a number of cancer patients, and he’s always been really caring. As we say all the time, cancer affects us all -- it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, you’re poor, you’re famous, you’re not famous, you’re black, you’re white. It will bring you to your knees. … And over the years, he’s made a huge effort to raise money to fight this vicious, vicious disease.”
Along with all of his previous fundraising, Williams -- who lost both of his parents to cancer -- wanted to do more when he returned to Chapel Hill, N.C., as UNC’s head coach in 2003. Dibbert said he approached the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and after much brainstorming, the Fast Break Breakfast was born.
“I can’t remember exactly how the idea for a breakfast came out, but the idea of doing something on the opening day of basketball practice was intriguing," Dibbert said. “To start the day with the breakfast and end it with Late Night [UNC’s version of Midnight Madness] just makes for a special day and a special experience for everyone.”
At this year’s eighth annual breakfast, Ted Seagroves, a longtime friend to Williams and a pancreatic cancer patient at UNC, will speak, as well as his surgeon from the Lineberger Cancer Center, HJ Kim. Auction items will include the hood of the Quicken Loans 2011 Carrier Classic race car, signed by NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and Williams. Tickets are still available.
The event raised $213,685 last year for cancer research, and the goal, Dibbert said, is always to raise more.
And she is hoping to see a healthy Williams -- who has also made several personal donations to the Center, and often visits cancer patients in the hospital -- at this year’s event.
“We count our blessings that Coach Williams reached out to us, he’s such a great partner to have," she said. “… We were all shocked and saddened to learn about the surgery, and we’re just wishing him the best.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.