BURLINGTON, Vt. - The Vermont Elite AAU basketball team practiced Tuesday afternoon the way they would on any other day.
For one member of the team, Rejos Neopaney, it wasn't any other day. It was Neopaney's 15th birthday, a day that was put in jeopardy over the winter.
"When we were in Florida last year, I was like, feeling this small thing in my armpit," said Neopaney. "I didn't think nothing of it. I thought it was just some extra muscle or whatever."
Neopaney noticed that small thing growing, so he went to the doctor. About a month later, he was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma.
"I would just take it day by day, not knowing if I was going to get back on the football field, get to play basketball with these guys again," Neopaney said.
Those questions and more suddenly swarmed his teammates and his coach Sam Jackson as well.
"On December 4th, 2017, it had to be a coach's worst nightmare," said Jackson. "Getting that phone call from Rejos, as the first one outside the family who received that information, and what to do with it?"
"So, one of the things I told him, I said, 'Hey, we're going to full court press this until we're up 150.' And we're not going to stop, so that's what we're doing," Jackson said.
The team's motto is "One Family," and Rejos' teammates quickly acted on those words.
"Everything has been dedicated to him," said teammate Michel Ndayishimiye. "We made a bracelet called Rejos strong. [The bracelet] was dedicated out to him and everything from there on was all for him."
"Every single game we played, every fundraiser we did, and every practice we had, it was all for Rejos. Trying to encourage him to get back and know that we had his back," Ndayishimiye said.
In May, Neopaney finally received the news that he was cancer-free, and received the green light to return to sports and his basketball team.
Throughout Rejos's battle with lymphoma, Vermont Elite dedicated their 2018 Vermont AAU basketball championship to Rejos, and now they dedicate their quest for the AAU National Championship to him as well.
The team competes for the 2018 National Amateur Athletic Union Basketball title the week of July 16-20 in Orlando, FL.
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