Just before the start of the season, on a Sunday morning, Carolyn called her son and woke him up. Devon is the youngest of four children, and he always shared a special bond with his mother. She tried to explain what was going on, but the words muddled together: a tumor . . . size of a golf ball . . . behind her left ear. Devon didn’t know what to say. He dropped the phone. As she always had, Carolyn provided comfort and told him everything would be okay.
What felt like an ear infection last fall prompted a doctor visit. The tumor, Carolyn was told, was a byproduct of the cancer — multiple myeloma — that had festered in her bone marrow and meddled with the production of blood cells.
On the brink of his senior season, the Dukes’ star guard was devastated. The next day, he stopped by the gym and told his coaches he couldn’t practice. He was alone in the parking lot when his phone rang.
Carolyn had called to leave him a message and was surprised when her son answered. “I can’t do this,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. She assured him he could — for the both of them, he needed to — and instructed him to get out of the car and join his teammates. “She said she was going to call me back. ‘If you answer, I’m getting in a car and driving to Virginia, and then we’re going to have some serious problems,’ ” Devin said.
The pull of home
Carolyn always had been a part of Devon’s basketball career, encouraging him through the toughest times. He started for James Madison as a freshman and thrived despite a wrist injury. Before his sophomore year, he hurt his knee in a preseason scrimmage and had season-ending surgery. He battled injuries the next two years, too, and missed the first semester of his junior campaign because he was academically ineligible.
“One thing after another,” Devon said.
Adjusting to Harrisonburg wasn’t easy. He counts 15 close family members and friends who died and felt the constant pull of Columbus. As Dukes Coach Matt Brady says, “Home has always been a magnet for him.”
Carolyn would never let him quit, and Devon was determined to make the most of his final season of eligibility. “I wanted to go out with a bang,” he said.
As this basketball season started, Carolyn had surgery to have the tumor removed. Devon received constant health updates last semester but wasn’t able to return home until Christmas break. His mother had been feeling better but suddenly her breathing was labored and she was racked by headaches. The family took her to the hospital, where they were told the tumor had returned and another surgery was in order.