|Photo by Adam Turer, D3sports.com|
By Adam Turer
CINCINNATI -- This is the day that Lauren Hill has dreamed about since her 18th birthday, when she committed to play basketball for Mount St. Joseph University.
The days that might not come keep coming.
She walked on the court at Harrington Arena and scored a basket in front of her family and the home crowd.
Lauren met yet another milestone on Saturday, delivering the first points of the season scored in Harrington Arena. Mount St. Joseph’s true home opener on its Delhi campus was the latest life event for the Hill family and Mount St. Joe community to celebrate.
“This is what my dream was, to make a basket on that floor,” said Lauren. “It felt amazing.”
Lauren was up all night before the game and it was not until Saturday morning that her family and team knew that she would be playing. Her mother texted head coach Dan Benjamin three hours before tipoff and told him to have the team pray for Lauren. They happened to be in church for their team prayer at the time. Despite being awake and restless since 4 a.m., Lauren was ready to go before game time.
“I was shocked at how energized I was. I was so ready to score that basket,” she said.
Being around her teammates gave her a boost of energy. Even her parents were surprised by how energized she was once she stepped foot on the court. She was still feeling the boost several minutes after the game ended.
Lauren was all smiles in pregame warmups, wearing her trademark sunglasses and yellow hairband. She consistently made her layups in the shootaround and pregame drills with her teammates. She energized her teammates, who embraced her after she was announced in the starting lineup.
“I try to lift up my team and energize them as much as I can,” said Lauren. “This was just like another day with my team. They make me feel better. It gives me energy being around people that care about me so much.”
The home opener would not have felt the same without Lauren in uniform. The fact that she0 was able to not just take the court, but score on her first field goal attempt, was a thrill for her teammates and coaches.
In her own words
No matter what challenges she faces each day, Lauren continues to think about others first. She is humble and caring and an inspiration to millions. Here’s more of what Lauren had to say following her first game and first basket on her university’s home court:
“I’m overwhelmed by the support. It just really touches my heart. I’m so happy that I’m able to touch everybody else’s hearts. That makes every day feel so much more special.”
“I challenge everybody to find the blessing in every moment. There’s something good in every moment. No material item can compare to value of love and time you share with your loved ones.”
“It’s easier to lift yourself up when you’re fighting for others. That’s what keeps me going is fighting for those children who don’t have a voice and I can be their voice.”
“I’ve always tried to set a good example and be the best person I can be. I love being a teacher and a role model. It makes me feel like a superhero.”
You can continue to support Lauren and the fight against DIPG at http://www.thecurestartsnow.org/
- Adam Turer
“Lauren gets us through it. Her smile, her coming here, energizes her teammates,” said Benjamin. “She knows that. She really loves being with her sisters. We can’t thank her enough. She’s helped this team become a true family which is one of our goals.”
It was a new arena, but a familiar start. The Lions won the tip, Lauren received a pass from teammate Bristyl Webb on the left block, raised up, and banked in the layup. The crowd, much smaller than the 10,000 that filled Xavier’s Cintas Center in the season opener but still bigger than a typical Saturday afternoon home opener, rose to its feet in applause for Lauren. Nearly 700 fans turned out for this game, more than three times the typical crowd for a home opener for the program.
On her way back to the Lions bench, she paused at midcourt, kissed her palm, and smacked the Lions logo, giving the Lion a kiss to show her love for the program that has given her so much love back.
That moment, standing on her university’s home floor with her family and friends in the stands, was the latest dream that Lauren willed into reality.
“It’s just muscle memory to keep going and keep playing,” said Lauren. “Coach Bear is like another dad, the team is like an extension of my family, and this gym is like a second home.”
Benjamin had to talk Lauren into coming out of the game. She felt energetic and was willing to play a few more possessions. Lauren told her coach that she thought she was going to score another basket, just like she told him before the game that she was going to score her first basket. Her confidence and joy lift the spirits of everyone around her.
“I think it means a ton to her,” said Benjamin. “Today was special because it was on our floor.”
The Lions scored an appropriate 22 points in the first half. In the second half, Lauren remained engaged from her spot on the bench. With her shades back on and her earplugs in, she was constantly shouting encouragement to her teammates. It took a lot of energy, but she managed to stand with her teammates during timeouts.
The game capped a week of final exams for the Lions. As stressful as practicing and playing during exam week can be for a Division III student-athlete, the Lions derived strength from their teammate which helped them push through a strenuous week. They had their teammate Lauren by their side for one more game, for the first time on their home court.
Following the game, Benjamin thanked Franklin for their support and for letting them do what they wanted to do for No. 22. He then presented Lauren with a white Lions jersey signed by all of her teammates. The Lions will no longer wear white jerseys, permanently replacing them with the gray jerseys introduced this year to support Lauren’s fight against DIPG.
Benjamin told her to wear the jersey like another cape, because she is the team’s superhero. Then, Lauren Hill went home to spend more quality time with her family.