Today: 21.04.2018
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Texas A&M fighting for coach whose Parkinson’s is no sidenote.

LOS ANGELES — Billy Kennedy likes to say: “God has a great sense of humor.’’ Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, the Texas A&M coach, soft-spoken and spiritual, has been battling the ailment head-on and winning (more than basketball games) despite the fact some of its symptoms can become exacerbated with stress. According...
Time: 23:11     Date: 21.03.2018
Last US Sport News: Texas A&M fighting for coach whose Parkinson’s is no sidenote. NY Post 24 - US News

Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, the Texas A&M coach, soft-spoken and spiritual, has been battling the ailment head-on and winning (more than basketball games) despite the fact some of its symptoms can become exacerbated with stress.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Parkinson’s is defined as a “progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.”

So on the surface, that would make coaching a bad business for Kennedy to be in. Yet he’s the perfect person to handle it.

The funny thing is, when asked Wednesday on the eve of his team’s West Region semifinal game against Michigan at the Staples Center, Kennedy sounded as if he had little idea his players even paid attention to the fact he has Parkinson’s.

“I would think they don’t even realize it,’’ Kennedy told The Post. “I work out when they work out. I exercise on a regular basis. I don’t think they see it. You’d have to ask them.’’

But Kennedy, who’s been right about a lot of things while righting this turbulent season of his team’s, was wrong about his assessment of what his players have noticed.

They worship him.

“He’s a warrior,’’ Aggies junior forward D.J. Hogg said. “He doesn’t let nothing stop him. He always believes. He believes in us and he believes in a higher power. It shows in how he carries himself and how he’s the leader of our team.’’

Kennedy watches intently as the Aggies defeated Providence in the first round.Getty Images

Hogg is one of three Texas A&M players who were suspended this season for violating team rules.

“He’s a soldier,’’ Aggies junior center Tyler Davis said of Kennedy. “What he’s been through, and the way he’s fighting to this day, it’s incredible to see. You never want to let that man down, because of how hard he’s working to get us right, even when he’s going through his own things every single day.’’

Robert Williams, a sophomore forward and potential NBA lottery pick, called Kennedy “one of the strongest, most loving people who gives the most second chances I’ve ever seen.’’

“He had faith in us,’’ Williams said. “Even when things were starting to crumble, he never gave up on us.’’

It’s pretty clear Kennedy’s players are a lot more perceptive — and appreciative — than he might believe.

When the stories are told of the dysfunctional mess this Texas A&M season was just a couple of months ago, only to turn into one of the best stories in this NCAA Tournament, let’s hope the role Kennedy played in turning it around is not overlooked.

Texas A&M, after an 11-1 start before SEC league play and a No. 5 national ranking, nearly lost it all, due to player suspensions and injuries. An 0-5 start in SEC play had its season spiraling. The Aggies were 6-9 in league play before winning their final three games. Then they lost their opening-round game of the SEC tournament to Alabama.

All of that has been forgotten thanks to a spirited NCAA run highlighted by the Aggies’ stunning rout of North Carolina to get to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. They’ve never advanced further.

After his team was vanquished by Texas A&M, North Carolina coach Roy Williams called Kennedy one of his “big heroes’’ for all he does handling his Parkinson’s while still being one of the best coaches in the country.

“I told Billy I was really happy for him personally, and I meant that from the bottom of my heart,” Williams said.

Michigan coach John Beilein, Kennedy’s counterpart Thursday night, recalled getting to know Kennedy when they were both coaching smaller schools, and immediately being drawn to him.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the way Kennedy conducts himself and the way his talented (but flawed) team has climbed from the abyss this season. And it’s not lost on the players.

“You can’t take things for granted and don’t let your guard down,’’ Hogg said.

Kennedy has done neither. And that’s why this improbable team of his is on the cusp of making history.

“I really believe God put me here to do some special things,’’ Kennedy said. “And I believe that we’re going to do some special things with this group. We’re holding to that.”

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