EIGHINGER: Enjoy the moment, because ... you just don't know

Posted: Jan. 28, 2014 10:38 pm Updated: Apr. 23, 2014 9:14 am

Every so often there is a part of my former life back in Ohio that reaches out when I least expect it.

And sometimes it hurts.

Keith Dambrot, now the basketball coach at the University of Akron, was one of my closest friends for several years. He was the basketball coach at Ashland University when I was a sports writer in Ashland, Ohio, and he took the local college hoops team to a No. 1 national ranking. Keith was the biggest news to hit Ashland since Bill Musselman coached there in the late 1960s and early 1970s before departing for the Big Ten, ABA and NBA.

While Keith was in Ashland, I also became acquainted with one of his colleagues in the Great Valley Conference -- Dan "Pete" Peters, who at the time coached at St. Joseph's (Ind.) College.

As fate would have it, both Keith and Pete are now at Akron. Pete is the director of basketball operations and one of the sport's all-time good guys. Keith and Pete have had a long friendship.

During the weekend, I found out through a marvelously written piece by acclaimed college sports writer Pat Forde how important their friendship is at this point in time.

Why? Here are a few words from Forde's story that will do the situation far more justice than I ever could.

Before his Akron team played Toledo last Saturday, Keith Dambrot felt the tears coming during the "Star Spangled Banner."

There was no holding them back.

For this one game, director of basketball operations Dan "Pete" Peters was back with the Zips. He'd been on leave since mid-December, battling pancreatic cancer after receiving an exceedingly bleak diagnosis – a 5 percent chance of recovery.

But the 59-year-old was on the bench for that game, serving as a profound reminder of what really matters.

"I kind of lost it a little bit during the national anthem," Dambrot said. "Normally these games are so important to us, but it changes your whole perspective on things. It was hard."

Recent surgery was not a success for Peters -- the tumor could not be removed.

How beloved is Dan "Pete" Peters? Tonight across Ohio and throughout the Mid-American Conference and even parts of the mighty Big Ten Conference, there will be basketball teams, their coaches, their fans and many, many others abandoning their natural school colors to wear purple -- the color associated with pancreatic cancer awareness.

Players at numerous schools will wear special patches, and coaches will wear special pins, all signifying "4 Pete's Sake."

To read that Keith was brought to tears tore at my very fabric. Keith is one of the hardest-nosed individuals I have ever met, and also one of the most loyal men I have ever known. I could entertain you for hours with stories of the young men whose lives he has impacted.

Few people realize Keith was LeBron James' coach his first two years at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron, Ohio. Keith left after James' sophomore season to return to college coaching, but he helped form the Chosen One in his early years.

And while Keith was the first guy you would want on your side in a back-alley fight, Pete was the first one you would want at your side at a United Nations conference. I only had a few extended conversations with Pete, but he was the kind of man you always walked away from feeling better about yourself.

In Forde's tribute to Pete, he relayed a message from Keith, who said Peters' recent meeting with the Akron team was very emotional.

"He told the players, ‘Try to enjoy every day. Enjoy your moments, because you just don't know.' "

Right now, I would enjoy nothing more than sit at press row one last time inside a jam-packed Kates Gymnasium in Ashland, watching crazy-man Keith roam the sidelines while coaching against the Harvard-esque Pete.

Because ... you just don't know.


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