BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Giving back to the community has always been an off-the-floor focus for the UAB men’s basketball program. The latest endeavor, however, mixes on-the-floor achievement with off-the-floor contribution.UAB head coach Robert Ehsan’s program is donating to the Gene Bartow Memorial Fund for Cancer Research with the amount of the contribution determined by the number of blocked shots registered by the Blazers this season. Ehsan is pledging $10 for each blocked shot during the entire season while each of the Blazer players are making contributions based on blocked shots during Conference USA play.
“I think it’s great because as coaches, and a program, we want to give back to the community,” Ehsan said. “Part of our mission as a program is to be able to help in ways we can and do things like this. To be able to do it with something that’s helped our team be successful is unique and rare. I know the guys have all bought into this. The players are going to donate to it out of their own pocket.”
Perhaps the most unique aspect about the effort, especially for college athletics, is that the donations are based on performance. Over the past two seasons, teaming with the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Alabama, the UAB men’s basketball players wore a different color shoe on each foot to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.
“I thought it was appropriate for us to take it to the next level and do something a little different,” Ehsan said. “Now, instead of raising awareness, we are raising funds. I was thinking of a creative way to do that. With ‘Blockingham’ I thought it could potentially be a good tie-in. That’s how we started and came about with this idea.”
This time, one aspect of the Blazers’ performance determines how much money is raised within the program.
“I think it’s very unique,” said junior forward William Lee, who is also referred to as the "Mayor of Blockingham." “It motivates me to go out and get more blocked shots. I would love to see somebody find a cure for cancer. I just have it in my mind that every blocked shot will be a donation to help somebody that is in need.”
Senior forward Tosin Mehinti is equally excited about his involvement in the project.
“Blocking shots is a big part of my game, and knowing that the more blocked shots I have the more money will go towards cancer research, so it’s a huge motivating factor each time I take the floor,” Mehinti said. “This is being a part of something bigger than myself. I watch ESPN and I see all these people fighting cancer. People are doing so many things to beat cancer. I’m just trying to be part of something that is much bigger than UAB basketball.”The fight against cancer has been an important part of the UAB men’s basketball program for several years. In 2014, the Blazers adopted Elijah Seritt, a young cancer survivor, into the program and he’s remained an important member. Ehsan said he recently showed his team a video about former North Carolina State head coach Jimmy Valvano, who died of bone cancer in 1993, and they got together to watch a show honoring Craig Sager, who recently lost his battle with leukemia.
“It’s extremely important,” Ehsan said. “One of the reasons that I got into coaching was not just basketball but also to be able to impact these guys’ lives. We’re very blessed to play for and represent UAB. The other part is that we have a world class cancer center right here at UAB. To be able to help an issue that hopefully will change the world one day is incredibly important to myself and our coaches.”
The UAB athletic program has partnered with the Gene Bartow Fund since Coach Bartow died of stomach cancer in January 2012. The Gene Bartow Classic, which helps raise money for the fund as well as honors the legendary head coach, began in December of 2010 when Bartow was still fighting the disease. The eighth annual renewal of the Gene Bartow Classic will take place on Feb. 11 in a Conference USA game against Old Dominion.
“Research projects supported by the Gene Bartow Fund will expand our understanding of the development of GI cancers, and explore new avenues of disease treatment,” said Edward E. Partridge, M.D., Director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Evalina B. Spencer, UAB’s Chair in Oncology added this on the research: “The American Cancer Society estimates there were approximately 26,370 new cases of stomach cancer in 2016. While much is known about risk factors attributing to the disease, we do not yet understand how the cells of the stomach lining become cancerous. Continued research will help us find these answers.”
The UAB men’s basketball team will continue to help by swatting shots out of the air. Through 16 games, the Blazers have a C-USA best 87 blocked shots overall, with 13 of those coming in three C-USA games. At the time, Lee is tops in C-USA and 12th in the country with 46 blocked shots.
The UAB faithful can also help out in raising money for the Gene Bartow Fund. Donations can be made by a pre-determined amount or fans can match the donation to the number of blocks tallied by the team at the end of the season. Click here to make a donation to the Gene Bartow Fund.