Jim Sabiston's words will be in our hearts

Duke supporter Jim Sabiston, fighting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, encourages the team to play "junkyard mean.'' Jon Gardiner/Duke University Photography

DURHAM, N.C. -- The first time I met Jim Sabiston was at a Duke football tailgate on my official visit, after I had committed. He knew everything about my high school career, who I was as a player, the kind of person I was, what I wanted to study.

There were three other recruits that weekend, all of whom would become my classmates and closest friends. He knew everything about them, too.

When we arrived at Duke the next summer for classes and workouts, we spent the first few months in the guest locker room of our practice facility as ours was being renovated. The primary donors were Jim and his wife, Susan.

During my three years, Susan, who bakes as a hobby, has made us countless “Cake Boss” style cakes -- Duke themed, of course. And for all of my freshman year, Jim and Susan sat along the baseline in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I can remember Jim yelling at me to rebound and to bring the fight to whoever our opponents were.

In calmer settings, he always asked about my family and how school was going and always left me with a reminder that I needed to get on the boards.

Jim has been undergoing his own fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the last two years, a fight far greater than any we face on the court. Throughout his battle, Jim has remained the most ardent supporter of our program and of us as individuals.

A few of us have been able to visit Jim this year as he undergoes the final stages of his treatment, and, as usual, his message was about our own toughness and his excitement and expectations for our coming games and what he saw we needed to improve on.

Jim’s support and encouragement for me has always meant a lot. I admire and love his indefatigable spirit and persistence, both in his own battles and in his criticisms and encouragements for us./p>

We as a team have been preparing for the most exciting part of the season: the NCAA tournament. Our first and only focus is on our game Sunday, facing off with Hampton in Cameron Indoor Stadium at 12:05 p.m.

As always, Jim’s admonition to play “junkyard mean” will be on our minds and in our hearts. We’re ready to start dancing.

Go Duke!