March 15, 2012

Playing for one of their own

Written by Amy Farnum, NCAA.com

The MIT men's basketball program is in the midst of an unforgettable season.

The Engineers have advanced to the NCAA Division III semifinals for the first time in the 112-year program history after while compiling a 29-1 record. And, while the players and coaches are ecstatic about the team's accomplishments so far, more than anything, they are thankful.

Just a couple minutes on the phone with former MIT basketball player Dan Goodman reminds them why. Goodman, a 2001 graduate and one of head coach Larry Anderson's first recruits, was born with a cavernous malformation in his brain stem – abnormally formed blood vessels that can leak blood or hemorrhage.

Until four years ago, there were no side effects from Goodman's condition, but then he experienced a bout of numbness and double vision. Doctors ran tests and made the diagnosis, but at the time the malformation was in an inoperable spot in a sensitive area of the brain. There were no other treatment options except to just wait and watch to make sure there were no more bleeds.

Then, in October, Goodman began experiencing symptoms again while on a business trip in North Carolina. However, doctors still did not feel the bleed was accessible for surgery. It was the same week that MIT began preseason practice, and Goodman felt compelled to send Anderson an e-mail with an update on his health, and the fact he would rather being doing dreaded line drills than lying in his hospital room.

Anderson, current players and former teammates rallied around Goodman during the ordeal. Anderson carries Goodman's hospital bracelet with him to games, and frequently reminds the team that the challenges it faces on the basketball court pale in comparison to what his former player has gone through.

Over the years, Goodman has been an active alum – stopping by practice to offer encouragement, attending games home and away, and donating financial support.  He says he knew he was going to marry his wife Aubrey when she agreed to go to a MIT basketball game with him.

MIT's incredible run this season has helped the dedicated former player through his personal struggle, giving him hope, and a nice distraction.

"Fundamentally, it is this wonderful outlook," Goodman said. "It is this group of guys who are not supposed to win at basketball – they're supposed to be a bunch of nerds. Here they are winning and doing well and it feels good to be a part of that."

While the Engineers were racking up wins like no other team in the history of the program, Goodman's wife gave birth to their second child and the malformation moved into an operable position.

Doctors scheduled Goodman's surgery for March 9 at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Coincidentally, it was the same day as MIT's NCAA third-round game against Staten Island in Lancaster, Pa.

That morning, Goodman texted the team a photo of him wearing the net from the conference title game the team had given to him.

"I wanted to remind them that we were going to go through adversity together [that day]," Goodman said.  "We had a big day and we had to look to our teammates to get us through it… my teammates are my wife and my family. I wanted to share with them that the foundations they are building right now with their teammates are important. Things get hard and you can go to other people and look to them for inspiration and strength."

Goodman remembers asking the score of the game when he woke up from the anesthesia. MIT beat Staten Island, 83-67.

The next day, the team was gathering in the hotel lobby preparing to leave for the game, Anderson called Goodman for a little last-minute inspiration from the former Engineer.

"We talked to him over the phone and laughed and joked with him," Anderson said.  "We asked if there was anything we could do, and he said, 'play the game the way it is supposed to be played and go win!'  We just want honor his wishes."

The Engineers topped Franklin & Marshall, 69-54, to advance to the NCAA semifinals.

"He's been a true example to us of how you should act when times are good, and an example when they are not going so good," Anderson said. "He approaches life as being thankful. We draw inspiration from that. We want to live our lives as a basketball team how he lives.  We want to be thankful for what we have and not sweat the small stuff."

"[Goodman's] a really great guy, and he is going through stuff now that is tougher than anything we'll ever face on the basketball court," senior center Noel Hollingsworth said. "It reminds you of what is really important.  He wants us to win and we want to do that for him."

With the malformation removed from his brain stem, Goodman is "on the mend."  He is still suffering from a little numbness and double vision, but doctors are optimistic that once the swelling from the surgery goes down those symptoms will go away. However, that will not stop him from watching MIT play in the NCAA semifinals on Friday. 

The game between MIT and Wisconsin-Whitewater will be streaming live on NCAA.com AT 8 p.m. ET.

While Goodman's situation has certainly motivated the Engineers in the postseason, their experience has also been an integral reason for their success.  MIT's starting five is comprised of three seniors – Hollingsworth, Jamie Karraker and Billy Bender – along with juniors Mitchell Kates and Will Tashman and the program is making its' fourth consecutive NCAA postseason appearance. But before this year, the Engineers had not advanced past the second round.

"We have great chemistry among us in our basketball family," Anderson said.  "It is the best I've been involved with … it can't get much better than this.  They know where the others are going to be on the court, and they hold each other accountable on and off the court."

"We know what we need to do to win games because we've had the experience of doing this together for three years," Hollingsworth said. "You have to learn how to win.  Even though we've been really successful in each of those years, we've put it together this year and said we aren't going to lose the type of games we lost in the first two seasons."