It is not hard to find Tonya Wilkerson, the mother of Blazer guard Kevin Harris, and the Kevin Harris fan club when attending a basketball game at the VSU Complex. They sit courtside sporting their red t-shirts that mostly read “It’s been a long time coming,” which is most commonly followed by a picture of Harris on the front.
“I love it. They have been following up on me since middle school,” Harris said.
Wilkerson, the mother of Harris, is the person in charge of getting the fans together and ready to make the trip to Valdosta for the games, whether that means packing everyone into vans or tour buses.
“My mom is the ringleader. She is normally a little more alive than she is right now because of the cancer but she is the ringleader and she gets them up for every game.”
Harris, the newest spark to the VSU men’s basketball team, is quick to point out that the -shirts and the support are trademarks of his mom; someone that has always had an impact on his life.
“She has always been doing stuff like that,” Harris said. “The family support is great, especially from my mom. She is my No. 1 fan.”
That connection between the 24-year-old Harris and Wilkerson took a huge impact in 2008, when Wilkerson was diagnosed with breast cancer, the second most commonly diagnosed form of the disease in women.
Wilkerson was diagnosed with the cancer on April 8, 2008, while Harris was attending Northwest Mississippi Community College, a small JUCO-level school located 12 hours away from Harris’ home in Douglas, Ga.
“[The cancer] was something that took me by surprise,” Wilkerson said. “It was definitely something that had an impact on my family. I prayed and asked God for the strength to just live my life.”
When Wilkerson was diagnosed, she called Harris to tell him the news.
“I told Kevin and all my children, we are going to make it and I am going to live as long as God gives me life,” Wilkerson said.
Harris had no option but to sit on the phone and cry, due to his commitment to school.
“Kevin was upset because he couldn’t come home and I was upset because I couldn’t hold him. It was devastating to him,” Wilkerson said. “He was just so used to me being there for him and he just thought that was it. He thought it was life over for me. That was the hardest thing for him. He told me that I was all he had and it was definitely devastating to Kevin to get that news that far from me.”
Harris, the father of two after the birth of his son, Keylan, in December, says experiencing something like having a parent with cancer, has made him a better son and father.
“She has always encouraged me to be the best father that I can be,” Harris said. “I am following in her footsteps and being a good parent is something that she always takes pride in. It [the experience] made me a better son because I kind of realized that I took life for granted.”
After fighting the breast cancer with chemotherapy and losing all of her hair, Wilkerson got the good news that the cancer was gone and she was going to make a full recovery.
Now Wilkerson is back focusing on supporting her son and his passion for basketball at VSU. Wilkerson has been at every home game and even the occasional away game to watch her son play.
“Kevin has always had the support,” Wilkerson said. “He has always been a diehard basketball player and whenever he plays he plays with all of his heart and soul.”
Now that Harris doesn’t have to worry about his mother and the chance of cancer taking her life, his primary focus is on the game that he loves so much, basketball.
Since joining VSU in January, the 5 foot 10 inch junior point guard is averaging 10.6 points per game in just 17 minutes of play.
“Coming in and joining this team that was already on a winning streak was tough for me because I had to take another roll which I was not used to, which was coming off the bench,” Harris said. “But being on a team as good as these guys are is a great feeling. This is the best team I have every been on.”
Harris has been nicknamed Sparky by local sports talk host Dustin Swedelson, due to the spark that Harris provides off the bench for VSU.
“We knew he was a good player and he was a great kid,” VSU head coach Mike Helfer said. “We knew we had a chance with him so we went after him. It has shown that was a good move for us.”
Immediately Harris lived up to his future nickname as he provided a spark off the bench for VSU against Lambuth University. In his first game with the Blazers, Harris recorded 12 points in only 14 minutes as VSU rolled to an impressive 104-76 win.
“He got a chance to play in that game because of the score,” Helfer said. “However, Kevin proved that he can play and that he was going to be a weapon for us to come.”
For the next two games Harris played a small role for the Blazers. However, when the No. 1 team in the nation, Augusta State, came to town, Harris was ready to play like every other Blazer. Harris led all bench scorers in the game with 18 points, six of which he racked up on consecutive 3-point field goals in back-to-back possessions for VSU. Harris also dazzled the third largest crowd in school history with his dominating ball control and quick moves to the basket as the Blazers upset ASU, in what is being called the biggest win in school history.
“I just play hard,” Harris said. “I was just waiting for my number to be called and Helfer called it early and I just went in and everything worked for me.”
With as good of a game as Harris played versus Augusta State, Harris topped his performance when he carried VSU with 20 points in a come from behind win against Alabama-Huntsville. Harris’ 20 points made him the seventh VSU player to score at least 20 points in a game this season.
Currently the Blazers are putting together the best season in school history as they currently sit with a 22-2 record on the season. The Blazers have not lost since Dec 12 when they lost in double overtime at Tampa. Since Harris has joined the team, the Blazers are an impressive 10-0 and many believe this is the year that the Blazers will win their first ever NCAA Division II national championship.
“I knew from the first time I came in and watched the guys play that this was a good team and that I could help this team win,” Harris said. “I have been telling the guys since I got here and started to play that we are going to win a national championship. We will not lose from this point forward.”
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