For four years, Joe Hughes was a member of the Xavier basketball team. You remember Hughes' years on the team, even if you don't remember his contributions. He was there when BJ Raymond hit that shot against West Virginia, when Stan Burrell's arms crossed above his head let the nation know who we were, and when Dante came back out of the locker room with the blue flag flying, claiming the NCAA tournament as Xavier's turf. Through those moments and a host of others both good and bad, Joe Hughes was an anonymous footman in the grand scheme of Xavier basketball. Over four years - three as a walk-on, one with a scholarship awarded to him by Coach Mack as "a great way to reward Joe for being a true representative of Xavier basketball" - that was our tangential connection to him as fans of the Xavier program. Now, in his post-basketball life as an accountant, Hughes has cancer.
More precisely, as he tweeted on Friday, Hughes has Hodgkin's lymphoma. As much as I love a good laugh on this page, there are no funny jokes about lymphoma. Hughes is 24 years old; at an age where many people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, he is staring down the barrel of a disease that threatens to significantly truncate his. I tweeted a quick note of encouragement to Joe on Friday and asked him if he preferred #ChuckJoe or #JoeStrong as a hash tag for Xavier fans to use, and he responded that he'd prefer to just continue on with #ChuckStrong.
Joe Hughes was never a high-leverage player on the national basketball scene. He never led SportsCenter or had Eamon Brennan chasing him down for a quote or made the cover (or any other part) of Sports Illustrated. But he was and remains a part of the Xavier family. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers. If you have Twitter, let him (@hughes_33) know Xavier Nation is pulling for him. [Ed. note: since I wrote this but before it ran, Dante Jackson tweeted that Brad Redford, Erik Stenger, and grad assistant Ben Botts would shave their heads if a specific tweet of his got 1,000 RTs. That tweet can be found here. RT, even if it means you need to set up a Twitter account for the first time ever.]
And, this Wednesday or Saturday, when you want to jump through your screen to adjure Isaiah Philmore to get closer to the rim or Semaj to feed Travis Taylor instead of driving into traffic, instead try to remember that these players are - by and large - just kids out there trying to earn a free education to help them with life beyond basketball, and that one of them may one day be a regular guy with a fiancé and a mom and a serious disease.
In the meantime, do spare a thought for Joe Hughes, and thank him for reminding us once again that there's more to life than basketball and that there are people in the world with problems that run a lot deeper than missed baskets and unforced turnovers.