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Las Vegas • Long before Craig Cusick soldiered on without flinching after his father was diagnosed with cancer, and years before BYU's senior guard made the game-winning shot against Utah State, he was a hero in his teammates' eyes.
"I don't know if there is another basketball player in the country on the Division I level who starts for his team and doesn't have a scholarship," marveled fellow senior Brock Zylstra. "It is really tough to do that, because I have been there and know how he feels. He's amazing."
And he's not bitter, angry or regretful that he was a significant contributor on BYU's basketball team while paying his own way.
"Just the opposite," Cusick said. "I just feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to coach [Dave Rose] for allowing me to come out a few years ago and try out for the team. I am just fortunate to have this opportunity, because I know there are a lot of kids out there who have dreamed of this, just like I did."
Cusick will make his 13th start of the season, 16th of his career, on Friday night when the Cougars (21-10) open play in the West Coast Conference Tournament against San Diego. Not bad for a walk-on who caught Rose's eye three years ago.
"What he has accomplished, it just doesn't happen that often," Rose said of the combo guard who has averaged 4.1 points and 2.2 assists per game this season. "His story will always be something that is really close to me. ... Those are really special guys, who can do what he has done."
How has he done it?
Cusick said his parents, Randy and Debbie, and his wife of nearly 18 months, Sadie, have made tremendous financial sacrifices so he could chase his dream.
"I have a fantastic wife and fantastic parents," he said. "My wife has graduated and has a job [to support the family]. By no means are we wealthy, but we are able to get by. That's something that college students have to do.
"Another blessing is my dad, who has worked hard and paid for my schooling. That's why the whole issue with my dad's health is really touching, because he is paying for me to be here. My parents and my wife are incredible."
As if Cusick's tryouts-to-starter story weren't noteworthy enough, it took another turn on Feb. 19 when, just hours before he would hit the put-back shot to beat USU 70-68 at the Marriott Center, his family learned that Randy had a cancerous tumor in his small intestine. He had collapsed a few days before that and was rushed to the hospital.
It was from his hospital bed that Randy watched the son who he coached in several sports growing up make his final shot of the game after missing his first six.
"That's Craig. He's clutch," said fellow senior Brandon Davies. "To see the things he's been doing, and the things he has had to go through, it is unbelievable to see the way he has handled it."
Tuesday, tests and scans revealed spots on Randy's liver and kidney and a biopsy was performed to see if those are signs of more cancer. The results were not back yet when BYU players and coaches met the media on Wednesday to talk about the season and the conference tournament.
"He is positive, and he is fighting, so we believe everything will be OK," Craig said. "There was a night or two of no sleep, but it hasn't affected me mentally on the court, or anything like that. ... There are so many blessings that have come into our lives because of what has happened. We really have felt the prayers and thoughts of a lot of people."
Cusick's roommate when the Cougars are on the road, Zylstra said he expected nothing less from his best friend.
"I knew he would soldier on, because his dad is definitely like that, and he is obviously from the same tree as his dad," Zylstra said.
At a glance
Season statistics for BYU senior guard Craig Cusick:
GP/GS MPG PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3FG% FT%
31/12 20.2 4.3 2.5 2.2 1.0 38.7 41.4 66.7
O At Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
BYU vs. San Diego
Tipoff • Friday, 9:30 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 21-10; San Diego 14-17
Series history • BYU leads San Diego 6-1; BYU leads Pepperdine, 8-4
Last meeting • BYU def. Pepperdine, 63-61 (Jan. 31, 2013); San Diego def. BYU 74-68 (Feb. 7)
About the Cougars • They have not won a conference tournament since 2001, when they won the Mountain West Conference Tournament title in that league's second year. ... Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws were named to the 10-member All-West Coast Conference team on Monday, the 16th straight year that BYU has placed a player on an all-conference team. ... The winner of Friday's late game will meet Saint Mary's on Saturday night in a semifinal at 9:30 p.m.