PHILADELPHIA -- She thought that maybe March 6, 2010, would provide the toughest moment. That was the day Heather Comer’s husband, Troy, had circled on the calendar, the one he practically begged doctors to tell him he would see before lung cancer claimed his life.
That was the day of the Florida 6A state high school basketball championship, and Troy Comer knew in his gut that his son, Brett, would be playing in it.
But doctors don’t make those kinds of guarantees, and cancer doesn’t care much about a calendar. Troy Comer died on Jan. 29, 2010 -- six weeks too early to see his son win a state title.
A year later, Brett’s high school team played in the championship game again. Surely this, Heather thought, this has to be the toughest moment.
But then along came high school graduation and a Division I basketball scholarship offer for Brett.
And most recently and most memorably of all, there was Brett Comer tossing up the silliest, least orthodox and single greatest alley-oop pass in NCAA tournament history to help Florida Gulf Coast upset second-seeded Georgetown on Friday night.
In the stands, Heather Comer stopped wondering if this was the toughest moment, or what the toughest might be.
“There are always moments, and I think every time something like that happens, Brett and I know we’re both thinking about his father," Heather said Saturday, the day after her only child made history. “It’s really taken us both three years where, just a few months ago, we sort of looked at each other and realized, ‘He’s really not coming back, is he?’ It doesn’t stop."
Life, though, keeps going, and for Brett Comer it is going in a way that must have his father elbowing his fellow angels, saying, "That’s my boy."
In FGCU’s first NCAA tournament game in history, Comer dished the ball for 10 assists. Even crazier, against Georgetown’s smothering defense, he committed just two turnovers, a line that would have made both the father and the coach in Troy Comer immensely proud.
“He would have eaten that up," Brett said with a smile.
As soon as Brett discovered basketball, Troy discovered coaching. Troy didn’t play -- "No, no, no, he couldn’t play for anything," Brett said, laughing. “He knew X’s and O’s. He knew what you were supposed to do, but he couldn’t do it."
But he loved the game and loved spending time with his only child.
Brett isn’t sure when he picked up a basketball, but the nuances of the game always have intrigued him.
Years ago, a family member gave him some old tapes of Pete Maravich. Instead of shelving them like plenty of his generation might, Brett watched with rapt attention.
“The way he passed the ball really fascinated me," he said.
Little wonder, then, to watch Comer is to watch a player whose game earns style points but is based as much on intuition as it is development.
“Sometimes Coach [Andy Enfield] will say, ‘I don’t know how you made that pass,'" Comer said. “Honestly, sometimes I don’t know how I made it either. It’s just my instincts taking over."
His father, like Enfield, tolerated some of the mistakes that come with such daring, and Brett is pretty certain his dad would approve of the oddly timed dish to Chase Fieler.
The two were extraordinarily close, Heather said, and in Troy’s obituary, Brett is referred to as Troy’s "best friend."
Little wonder that Troy’s sudden passing -- he was gone barely a year after he was diagnosed -- devastated Brett.
“My father was a ninth-grade coach and a high school coach, and I remember as a first and second grader getting on the team bus and going with him to games," Enfield said. “Brett had that kind of relationship with his father, so I understand that connection but I can’t imagine him not being here with me."
Brett was angry at first -- his dad was a smoker and son naturally wondered what role that played in his premature passing -- but he internalized much of his grief. By the time he got to Florida Gulf Coast, a guy most knew as engaging and funny had become almost an introvert.
Heather worried but couldn’t persuade him to get help.
“I know he hid it to protect me, but finally a few months ago, he said, ‘Mom, I need to talk to someone,'" Heather said. “He agreed to talk to a grief counselor."
That was in November, a decision that had such a profound effect on Brett he can practically pinpoint the day that he started to feel, if not better, at least OK.
Just this month -- more than three years after his dad’s passing -- he talked about it publicly for the first time, sitting down with Fort Myers News-Press reporter Seth Soffian.
“It's not something you ever completely get past, but I started to deal with it better after the St. John’s game [on Nov. 24]," Brett said. “After that point, my coaches, teammates and someone else I was talking to helped me get past it. It felt normal, almost. I had a clear head. I was able to think."
And finally, three years later, Heather Comer had her moment. Not the toughest one but the best one, the one when she knew her son would be OK.
“As a mother, it’s always so hard when there’s something wrong that you can’t fix," she said. “I worry about him. I want him to be happy. I think he is."
Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's news and notes from Philadelphia, click here.