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NC Central freshman making good on second chances

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Rashawn King remembers being at that seven-on-seven football camp three summers ago. He remembers being slow. He remembers dropping passes. He remembers feeling dizzy and light-headed. He remembers his face swelling up.

"I wasn't playing the way I normally play," King said. "I knew something was wrong."

His mom knew something was wrong, too.

Her name is Michelle Merritt.

NC Central freshman Rashawn King got his wish: to meet LeBron James. (Courtesy)  
NC Central freshman Rashawn King got his wish: to meet LeBron James. (Courtesy)    
She took her son, a two-sport athlete, to a local pediatric hospital the next day. Doctors ran a number of tests, including tests for cancer. They then sent the 17-year-old from Middle Creek High in suburban Raleigh, N.C., to UNC Hospitals. Why? Because they thought their machines were malfunctioning.

"That's how bad it was," King said. "My white blood cell count was so high that they thought their machine was broken."

But the machine wasn't broken.

It was fine.

King was not.

Doctors walked into his room and delivered a diagnosis of leukemia. They told King he was in such bad shape that he wouldn't have lived to see 18 years of age had he not arrived at the hospital when he arrived. In fact, the doctors were a little more specific than that.

"They told me I would've died the next day," King said. "I basically had one day to live. It was June 14, 2010."

Today is Nov. 1, 2012.

That same Rashawn King who was never supposed to see 18 turned 20 this morning.

He's now a freshmen basketball player at North Carolina Central.

"The kid was given a death sentence," said North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton. "He's an amazing young man."

Folks in the Raleigh-Durham area understand this already because King became something of an inspiration to the community over the past two years. He took dozens of pills a day. He endured chemotherapy. He was confined to a bed for weeks at a time. But King eventually got out of that bed, his cancer ultimately went into remission, and he got healthy enough to participate in Make-A-Wish, a foundation that tries to grant wishes for children with life-threatening conditions.

Make-A-Wish asked King his wish.

It was to meet Miami Heat star LeBron James.

So everything was setup for Rashawn King to meet The King at last season's NBA All-Star game.

"But then I started thinking about it, and I decided it would be very selfish of me to use my Wish to meet one of my heroes when there were so many people who had been helping me when I was sick and down," King said. "I decided I wanted to give back to those people. I decided to do something different."

What King decided was that he'd rather throw a lunch-party for his classmates who had spent much of the previous two years fundraising and praying for him than meet the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player. It was an odd request for Make-A-Wish but one the foundation happily granted. Chick-fil-A sandwiches and sides were provided for nearly 2,000 students and faculty last April at Middle Creek High while King stood at the head of the line hugging and thanking friends and teachers.

Which brings us to last Tuesday.

"Coach LeVelle called me that day around 2:30 in the afternoon and told me to come by his office," King said. "I was like, 'Oh, man. What did I do? Am I in trouble?' But he just told me he wanted me to be ready to go somewhere at 4 o'clock."

Moton didn't say where. King didn't ask. But he was indeed ready at 4, as instructed. The coach and player then started driving. King figured they were going to dinner.

"I thought maybe Coach just wanted some one-on-one time with me," King said. "But then I got a phone call from Make-A-Wish, and the lady asked if I was on my way to the Heat-Bobcats exhibition [in Raleigh]. I was like, 'No ma'am. I'm with my coach.' But then I turned to coach, and he said, 'Where do you think we're going right now? That's where I'm taking you. You've got an all-access pass. You're gonna meet LeBron.'"

Just like that, King's initial Make-A-Wish request was coming true. He spent that night watching the Heat beat the Bobcats. He met Pat Riley. He met Mike Krzyzewski. He met almost all of the Miami players, including James.

"And Bron was terrific with him," Moton said. "He talked to the kid one-on-one, told him that his story was so inspiring, gave him a hug, took pictures. He made the kid feel like he was a member of the Miami Heat. Rashawn told me it was the greatest night of his life. He was on cloud nine. It was incredible."

What will be even more incredible is when King steps on the court for North Carolina Central for the first time and defies all odds in an entirely new way. He's still waiting for doctors to clear him to participate, but that's expected to happen soon, probably before the start of this season. In the meantime, King is taking in film sessions, lifting weights, attending every practice and just generally enjoying life, mostly because he's living.

He was never supposed to turn 18.

This morning he turned 20.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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