The life of a student-athlete at the University of North Carolina is special. The opportunity to get a great education and represent the university on the basketball court is unbelievable. Throughout my time at North Carolina, I have enjoyed the relationships I have built with my teammates, my classmates, and my professors.

However, the relationships that have mattered the most to me have been the kids I have grown to care about at the UNC Children’s Hospital. I have many time commitments and I pride myself on getting extra time in the gym and achieving well in the classroom, but I can always make time to see young kids who smile every time I walk through the door.

I began to visit the Children’s Hospital with Eric Montross at the beginning of my sophomore year and we talked about how every time we leave, we have that warm feeling that all kids provide to us. People may say the kids feel great when we come in, but we definitely enjoy it just as much as them. I came from a large family with four brothers and when I came to college, I wanted to be around younger kids and grow relationships with them because it reminded me of home. No one will ever replace my three brothers, but the young kids at the hospital have been such a blessing to me.

I have one young kid who has a special place in my heart because of his passion and understanding for the game of basketball. His name is Yash and I grew really close to him and his family. I met him on my first visit to the hospital and to hear his story and see his fight and determination with a smile on his face each time I walked in made me excited.

After the Kentucky game, I had a lot of people texting me and calling me, but I knew Yash watched the game and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my first day back then to go to lunch with him and his mom. He inspired me so much during the season and our relationship grew exponentially.

There are many demands as a student-athlete, but I would not be the person I am today without people like Yash in my life. I cannot thank Eric enough for opening the opportunity for me to visit the hospital. As a junior now, I try to make it to the hospital several times a month because I know the impact it has on me as well as the young kids. It is a blessing to be able to utilize my platform and touch the lives of many kids who are driven to overcome adversity.

Just last week, I ran into Yash’s mom at the hospital and she was telling me about Yash and how he was doing a lot better. It made me feel better than any accolade or accomplishment to know that someone who had struggled for so long had finally turned the corner and he cares about how I am doing. Time is valuable, but when you know the things that matter to you, it makes balancing that time so much easier.

This story appeared in the DECEMBER 2017 edition of Born & Bred