When University of Missouri assistant coach Brad Loos saw the NCAA Tournament bracket unveiling that overall No. 1 seed Kansas would play Austin Peay, coached by his father, Dave, Brad Loos’ first thoughts were stoked by the embers of the obsolete KU-MU rivalry.
How cool would it be if his father’s team could become the first No. 16 seed ever to topple a No. 1 seed … and have it be at the expense of the Jayhawks?
Then Kansas coach Bill Self went and said kind things about Loos’ father, whom Self has known for more than 25 years and with whom he shares an Henry Iba coaching tree lineage.
“I’ve always thought he was first-rate,” Self said of Dave Loos. “He always treated me very, very well when I was a young guy.”
Worse yet, Self went on to speak with compassion and wisdom about Dave Loos’ granddaughter and Brad’s daughter, Rhyan, 6, as she continues her battle against cancer at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
“Hopefully, playing Austin Peay in some way, shape or form will bring attention to the cause and what they are trying to do with his granddaughter,” Self said Sunday.
All of which threw off Brad Loos.
“I was trying to get into the whole ‘hate KU’ thing, and Bill’s killing me with this,” Loos said by telephone Sunday, laughing, as he stood outside his daughter’s hospital room. “I had my Mizzou gear on, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to hate KU — and then Bill comes out and says nice things about my dad and my daughter. … What are you doing?”
More seriously, Loos was grateful to Self.
Not just for the consoling thoughts for his own daughter but in terms of the awareness Loos and his wife, Jen, have been seeking to promote for her illness, neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer and, in her case, stage four.
The latest phase in the ordeal that began in October with round after round of chemotherapy was the recent removal of a tumor on her kidney — “a big step in the right direction,” as her father put it.
But, alas, one of many remaining.
“They were able to get the tumor out, the main tumor, but it had already spread into the bone marrow, and so we’ve still got months and months of treatment to try to get it out of the bone marrow,” said Brad Loos, noting Rhyan had more chemotherapy earlier Sunday even as she has been coping with infections and fluid buildup. “It’s all things we can get past; it’s just taking a little longer than we had hoped.”
With its epicenter in Columbia, the Rally for Rhyan has been embraced all over the nation, and particularly so in Clarksville, Tenn., where businesses have donated generously to the cause and Austin Peay players have taken to wearing “#Rally4Rhyan” on their warmup shirts.
“It’s been a tough thing to deal with, but I look at it a couple different ways,” Dave Loos said in a phone interview Sunday night. “Basketball has been kind of an escape at times from some of it, and on the other hand it’s been really inspiring for us because I watch what they’re going through and I’m really proud of Brad and Jen and the way they’ve handled this.
“They’ve said from the get-go, ‘If you’re going to be around here, you’re going to have a smile on your face.’ They’ve really handled this thing like champs, and Rhyan is quite a competitor herself, so it’s been inspiring to watch that.”
With a laugh, he added, “She at times can be a stubborn little gal, and I think that’s serving her well right now.”
Having a stubborn team, inspired by her, has served Dave Loos well, too.
The Governors were 12-17 before eking their way into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament as the No. 8 seed.
That tournament began on March 2, later in the endless day that Rhyan was having the tumor removed as Dave Loos paced and worried and was profoundly relieved to know the surgery was complete.
Including a rally from 19 points down and an overtime win enabled by a disallowed tip-in at the horn, the Govs won four games in four days and earned their first NCAA berth since 2008 and Loos’ fourth since taking over there in 1990.
No eighth seed ever had won the Ohio Valley Tournament, Brad Loos said, so Self’s graciousness notwithstanding, “Why not just keep making history now?”
As much as Brad Loos has learned to have perspective on the place of basketball in all this, he appreciates that the sport already has provided plenty of welcome relief for the family.
The Ohio Valley championship game, played on Dave Loos’ 69th birthday, provided him with a particularly overwhelming thrill sent from his granddaughter’s hospital bed, from which she appeared via CBS.
“A little encouragement from the Big Apple” was how Brad Loos introduced the segment, which then flashed to Jen Loos sitting alongside Rhyan:
“Hey, Dave, we just wanted to send a message and let you know that we’re hanging in there here, Rhyan’s doing good, we’ve been watching the games and we can’t wait to see you get a win next week,” Jen said, before gently coaxing the weakened Rhyan to add, “Good luck.”
Deeply moved by the surprise as CBS interviewed him, Dave Loos said, “This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”
It’s a sweet and touching moment that lends some healthy perspective to all this.
And much to Brad Loos’ chagrin, if you don’t believe that, well, just ask Self.
“It was,” he said, “a really neat piece.”