When TCU takes the court on Monday against Texas Wesleyan for an exhibition game, it’ll be bigger than basketball.
Not only is it an opportunity for TWU athletes to compete against a Big 12 power, more importantly it’ll be a chance to bring awareness to cancer and honor the strength of Texas Wesleyan assistant coach Brian Wanamaker. The game will be apart of Coaches vs. Cancer and the Horned Frogs will encourage cancer screening at the game.
Wanamaker is the brother of Brad Wanamaker, who played for Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh from 2007-11. Brad scored over 1,000 points in his career under Dixon while Brian started at Central Connecticut State and then transferred to TWU in 2009.
After a successful international career, Brian turned his focus to his next passion, coaching and he eventually got his shot with his alma mater as an assistant. He was overjoyed to be molding the next generation, but then something changed last September as a recurring back issue made life tough on him.
“I thought maybe I was working out too hard, but as time went on I was having these problems for a whole year,” Wanamaker said. “It was just a Friday going into practice and I couldn’t stand up, I could barely walk.”
Wanamaker let the coaching staff know he needed to go to the doctor and he was warned it could be a cancerous tumor. Wanamaker is an optimist and always felt he would be able to make it through this ordeal just fine, but there was something the doctor said that truly made him worry.
“It wasn’t the cancer, it was the fact he said I may have to learn how to walk again,” Wanamaker said. “Truthfully it was the toughest thing I’ve gone through in my life physically and mentally.”
Even though Brian didn’t play for Dixon, he still established a close relationship with him. When Brian would stay with Brad in the summers, Dixon would let him work out with Pittsburgh.
Wanamaker and Dixon arrived in Fort Worth at roughly the same time. In fact Dixon even tried to bring Wanamaker on staff for the Horned Frogs.
When he learned that Brian had cancer it was tough for him to stomach.
“Him and Brad are twins, I’ve known them for a long time. Both their stories are amazing,” Dixon said. “I reconnected with Brian as soon as I got to TCU, I’ve known them since they were 16-years-old. They’re a good, hard-nosed family from North Philly and they mean a lot to us.”
Dixon learned of Brian’s condition at a coaching clinic. Wanamaker was supposed to be one of the demonstrators at the clinic along with the rest of the TWU coaching staff but wasn’t able to come. That ultimately led to Dixon finding out his absence was because of the cancer.
As tough it was to know that Wanamaker was fighting for his life, Dixon couldn’t but be more impressed by the strength he showed.
“He’s similar to Brad, he has a ‘I’m going to get through it’ type of mentality,” Dixon said. “He’s tough, hard-nosed and gets that from his family. They’re the same type of people as they were players. Unselfish and I’m not surprised how well he’s handled it.”
Wanamaker is now in remission and has been since July and while he has maintained his strength on the outside there were moments where he wondered if he was living his last days.
“Your mind goes everywhere and with cancer the first thing I thought of was death,” Wanamaker said. “That made my mind wander every night I went to bed. That was all I could think about because there’s no cure for this and that was the toughest part, but my family was around and made it easier.”
Initially Wanamaker had reservations about sharing his story, especially before this big moment for his players at Texas Wesleyan.
But the more he pondered it, the more he realized he could be an inspiration for another person going through the same ordeal with cancer.
“I’m a person that doesn’t talk about myself, I focus on trying to help everybody else out,” Wanamaker said. “When they started making this a big deal, I was kind of hesitant I didn’t want this to be about me. I wanted it to be about the kids and their experience.
“I just like to be in the shadows, but as time went on I thought about it and how it could be inspiring and inspire a lot of people that are struggling or going through adversity. I just think it’s amazing that this can bring a lot of awareness.”
The Horned Frogs will host Texas Wesleyan on Monday at 7 p.m. at Schollmaier Arena.