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Fight against cancer is personal for SMU basketball coach

Fighting cancer is what Suits and Sneakers Week is all about.

DALLAS — On a Monday night when No. 1-ranked Baylor beat Oklahoma, the game’s biggest moment wasn’t about basketball.

During a timeout, the entire crowd stood and fans, players, and coaches held up signs honoring people who have been fighting cancer.

And on media row, reporters held up signs honoring ESPN reporter and cancer survivor Holly Rowe. Rowe was emotional and sobbing during the moment.

“It defines what we’re trying to do,” said Jeff Fehlis, an executive with the American Cancer Society.

SMU head coach Tim Jankovich heard about the moment, saying: “When you touch hearts in that way, is there anything more powerful than that?”

Powerful is precisely what Suits and Sneakers Week is all about. College basketball coaches across the country are changing it up and pairing their favorite athletic kicks to go with their suits. It’s an effort to bring awareness and raise funds to fight cancer. 

TCU head basketball coach Jamie Dixon hosted a Suits and Sneakers game Tuesday night, with SMU taking their turn Wednesday against East Carolina.

And when Jankovich takes the court in a suit and sneakers, the feeling will be different, because for the coach, the fight is personal.

His mother Ann died from cancer in 2013.

"And there’s not a day really I don’t think about her. She’s still with me. She’s a voice I hear sometimes, but she’s not with us,” said Jankovich.

The disease took his grandfather, too.

"When I was young and heard the word 'cancer,' you shook,” said Jankovich. “That was a scary, scary word. It’s still a scary word, but not the same."

Since Coaches Versus Cancer started 26 years ago, showcasing events like Suits and Sneakers night, they’ve raised more than $120 million.

"Don't get me wrong it's still playing whack-a-mole,” Fehlis said, "and there's a lot of work to do out there, there really is, but we are winning. We are making a difference, but we are far from finished."

And the fight goes on for coaches like Jankovich, with more moments like that touching one in Waco this week coming soon.

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