Zag players visit pediatric cancer wing at children's hospital

When Roman Smith, 6, shyly told five Gonzaga basketball players that his only sport so far is soccer, a Zags guard threw him a compliment.

“I want to learn soccer but I’m really big, so you’re probably better than me,” Julian Strawther told him.

He and his teammates also gave the boy a T-shirt and an autographed poster. They admired Roman’s “Star Wars” robe, just before he and his mom, Zabrina Smith, posed for photos with the Zags.

Roman, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was among pediatric cancer patients visited Monday by Strawther, Rasir Bolton, Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis and Malachi Smith at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

Across a hallway, the teammates greeted Lucas Pearson, 3, all smiles as he bounced their gift of a toy-sized basketball in his lap. Pearson is being treated for leukemia.

Just before touring, the players said they were eager to spread some cheer among patients and, when back on court, to get more assists.

The two goals are more directly linked than one may realize.

The five of them have teamed up with Community Cancer Fund in a pledge drive launched this year. Each time one of the five guards makes an assist during games, the Community Cancer Fund Assists program’s community pledges add up. So far this season, the program has raised $28,000 toward supporting regional cancer patients and their families. The goal is to reach $50,000.

And for the rest of this season, both fans and businesses can pledge toward any future assists made by the five players at For February, Washington Trust Bank is matching every dollar. In March, Gee Automotive Companies will match pledges.

When asked who among them has the most assists so far this season, four Zags pointed with smiles to Hickman.

At least two of the players shared that cancer hits close to home. Strawther’s mother died of breast cancer when he was young.

“I was in the fourth grade, so I know how it feels when you’re young, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” he said. “You hear all these big words, and as a kid you’re so innocent. It’s hard being down in the dumps; it’s hard to smile sometimes.

“That’s why it’s super huge to be here and try to put a smile on someone’s face for a couple of hours.”

Smith said recently his beloved grandmother died from pancreatic cancer, so he also hoped to help lift spirits for people at the hospital. “My grandma, she’s like my best friend; I try to honor her as much as possible.”

The fund works with regional cancer organizations to help fund service gaps for cancer patients and donates to local programs that benefit those patients and their families.

The group has helped send kids with cancer to Camp Goodtimes at Camp Reed and helped pay for families’ lodging when children are at the hospital, said Jon Neill, Community Cancer Fund executive director.

“At CCF, we have been fortunate to have an extraordinary relationship with coach Mark Few and the Gonzaga basketball team since the very beginning of our organization,” Neill said. “The CCF Assists program is one more way to help local cancer patients and also bring cheer to deserving kids battling the disease.”

Community Cancer Fund has named Feb. 20-25 as “Assists Week,” while the team gets ready for its home court showdown with the rival Saint Mary’s Gaels on Saturday.

During nearly two hours at the hospital, the players also made rounds in other pediatric units. Bella Schaum, 16, was there for outpatient care. She made sure to walk down a hallway to greet the Zags. “I’m a big fan; I try to watch their games when I can,” Schaum said. “They’re really nice, and it’s really great that they came here. Go Zags.”

Nate Brown

General Manager

Nate Brown is the General Manager of Zags Collective, leading the charge to help amplify the opportunities for the Gonzaga student-athletes through NIL partnerships with local charities, fans and businesses. With over a decade of experience in the professional sports industry and as a former business owner in Spokane, Nate is a seasoned professional who knows what it takes to succeed. Most recently, he served as the National Sales Director for a prominent west-coast real estate company, where he was responsible for driving growth and retention. With a deep understanding of sales and marketing, Nate brings a wealth of knowledge to the table and is always seeking innovative ways to drive revenue and create partnerships.With a passion for ensuring the success of student-athletes both on and off the field, Nate is dedicated to providing the necessary resources to keep Gonzaga competitive on the national stage. He understands the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with the community and local businesses, and works to maximize opportunities for Gonzaga’s student-athletes. As the son of two Gonzaga alumni, including a father who was a baseball pitcher and also a coach for the school, Nate has a great connection to the university and a passion for ensuring its continued success. Outside of work, Nate enjoys spending time with family, including his wife Jessica and their 16-year-old daughter Brooklynn and 12-year-old son Marcus. When not working or spending time with family, you can find Nate at any one of the amazing golf courses in Spokane, honing his swing!

Mike Smith

General Manager

Mike Smith joined Micconope 1851 in March 2023 and is excited to be the General Manager and looks forward to working with Blueprint Sports increase NIL revenue generation for Florida State University student-athletes. Smith comes to Micconope 1851 from Catawba College where he held the title as the Senior Director of Athletics, Development. Prior to working in Athletics at Catawba College, Mike served as the Associate Athletics Director for External Relations at Charleston Southern University. Smith has an impressive background in the collegiate athletics industry, having held senior level development and corporate sponsorship sales roles at The University of Southern Mississippi, Limestone University, the Sun Belt Conference, Florida Atlantic University, and with multimedia rights-holders Tele South Communications at the University of Mississippi, Learfield Sports at UNC Chapel Hill, and with International Sports Properties at Georgia Tech. Smith is a graduate of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and holds a master’s degree in Business Management from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In his new role here at Micconppe 1851, Smith will be responsible for raising major gifts for NIL deals as well as securing NIL corporate sponsorships for Florida State University student-athletes. Mike looks forward to helping ensure the FSU student-athletes have the resources and leadership opportunities to remain competitive nationally and positioned for success well beyond graduation. Mike is married to Katy Smith; the couple looks forward to relocating to Tallahassee, Florida, and becoming a part of the Micconope 1851 and Seminole family!

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