Why Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin isn’t shying away from 50, becoming a ‘king’

Tribune Content Agency

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin isn’t shying away from every birthday as he gets older — he’s embracing the wisdom, excited for the insight he continues to gain as a person, father, husband and coach.

Martin turned 49 years old Wednesday, taking one step closer to the half-century mark. It’s one more year where Martin said he’s a “prince,” before finalizing his transformation into a wise “king” once he reaches 50.

The fourth-year Mizzou coach doesn’t celebrate every birthday just because he made it another trip around the sun. Martin said he had a moment of reflection Wednesday with his wife, Roberta, whom he shares birth dates with.

She said she specifically remembers Martin’s 27th birthday on Sept. 23, 1998. Martin had been diagnosed with advanced Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 26. It’s why that first birthday after the diagnosis was monumental, Martin said.

So is every birthday after that.

“Every day that I’ve lived since I was 26 years old has been important to her, it’s been a big deal,” Martin told The Kansas City Star in a phone interview. “One, our birthday is on the same day, but it means I’ve lived another year.

“To deal with that, and now you’re talking 23-plus years later and me still standing here, which is a great feeling. Birthdays for me are a big deal, not that I do a lot of celebrating. The celebration for me is just to be breathing.”

Martin shared another story when speaking at the Coaches vs. Cancer Kansas City season tipoff on Thursday evening. Cancer becomes so much more personal once it directly affects a household, Martin said, which is part of why he shares his own experience.

When Martin was diagnosed at 26, his eldest son, Joshua, was 4-and-a-half months old. Martin said he prayed to God, asking to see his son turn 18 years old. Now, Joshua is 23 years old and in grad school.

“For those … like me, that’s a great thing,” Martin said. “I think it’s very important we understand: separate sport and human life. Because of the impact and the amount of money and time spent, I’m able to tell that story.”

Five basketball coaches, including Martin, spoke Thursday evening at the Coaches vs. Cancer Kansas City season tipoff in a virtual format. The organization is a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and National Association of Basketball Coaches. The event was organized to stand up to pediatric cancer and raise funds for cancer research.

Martin wasn’t the only Mizzou representation Thursday. MU assistant athletic director Brad Loos, a former assistant coach under Kim Anderson, is the co-chair for the Coaches vs. Cancer board of ambassadors and spoke during the event, joined by his family.

Loos’ daughter, Rhyan, is the inspiration for Mizzou basketball’s annual Rally For Rhyan game. The Tigers are a perfect 5-0 in those games, which double as fundraising events for pediatric cancer research. Rhyan was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 5, and while she’s been in remission for years, the Loos are still working tirelessly to raise funds and awareness.

“Five years ago, Rhyan, who was 5 at the time, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, and the situation was very bleak at the time,” said Jennifer, Brad’s wife. “But thanks to a clinical trial that was privately funded by events like just like this, we are thrilled to say she’s almost four years cancer-free in November.”

Martin was joined by KC Roos men’s basketball coach Billy Donlon, Roos women’s basketball coach Jacie Hoyt, K-State coach Bruce Weber and KU coach Bill Self during the presentation. ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, checking in from the WNBA “wubble,” interviewed each of the coaches one-on-one.

Rowe, at the end of the program, was also shown live she was the recipient of the 2020 Norm Stewart Legacy Award. The award is named after Mizzou’s legendary basketball coach who was the mastermind behind Coaches vs. Cancer. Rowe was congratulated by Stewart, Martin and a slew of Big 12 coaches during the program.

“You’ve entertained and informed us many, many times,” Stewart said to Rowe. “Now you’re an inspiration for thousands of us for your reaction to the dreaded disease. You’ve asked questions and made suggestions that have brought out the best in the participants. This award is a small donation in recognition of a great contribution.”


©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.