Whether it's apair of bushy eyebrows, a love of classical music or a knack for hitting jumpshots, fathers and sons usually have certain similarities. Denver Nuggets coachGeorge Karl and his son, Coby, a 6'4" senior guard at Boise State, are noexception. At 23, Coby has his father's tenacious attitude and the same mop-tophairdo that George sported some 30 years ago. They also share something else:Both are cancer survivors.
In October 2005,Coby awoke one morning with a sore throat. After a few days the sorenessdissipated, but Coby noticed a lump forming beneath his Adam's apple. "Itcouldn't have been bigger than a few centimeters," he says. It wasn't untilJanuary that he had the lump checked out, and then only at the urging of hisfather, who had undergone surgery for prostate cancer just months earlier, inJuly. Though Coby's physician referred him to an oncologist, who performed aneedle biopsy, neither doctor expressed much concern. "They didn't think Iwas old enough for this to be serious," says Coby.
But, on Feb. 5,the day after the Broncos defeated Fresno State, Coby received the chillingnews: a diagnosis of papillary carcinoma, which is a form of thyroid cancer."Cancer is a major word," says Coby. "I didn't know what to think.I was just scared." For the next few days Coby kept the news to himself,driving around Boise and wandering through the local Barnes & Noble, as iftrying to hide from the truth in the fiction aisle. It was nearly a week beforehe could bring himself to tell his parents, and even then he had to have hisdoctor break the news. "I didn't know what to say," says Coby.
For George it wasa familiar feeling. "When he didn't tell me right away, I thought he wasmirroring how I handled my cancer," says George, who continues to becancer-free. "I didn't want to bother anyone with it. I wanted to regroupand get strong before telling anybody." That doesn't mean George wasn'tterrified for his only son. "When he told me, it wasn't long after Justice[William] Rehnquist had died from throat cancer," George says. "Iwanted to know what Coby had and how serious it was."
The cancer turnedout to be one of the most treatable kinds, a type that is diagnosed in about30,000 Americans each year. "For most, the survival rate is 95percent," says Dr. Robert McDougall, a professor of radiology and medicineat Stanford, "but for someone his age, that number is actuallyhigher."
Not wanting todisrupt the Broncos' season, Coby decided not to tell his teammates and playedout the last month before having surgery. He finished the year as Boise State'sleading scorer, averaging 17.2 points, and was a second-team all-conferenceselection in the WAC. Following Boise State's season finale, the team gatheredfor a breakup dinner at the Peppermill Hotel in Reno, where Coby broke the newsto his teammates. "They were in shock," says Coby. "I don't thinkanyone knew what to say."
On March 20, just11 days after the season ended, Coby had surgery at the Saint AlphonsusRegional Medical Center in Boise, where doctors removed his thyroid gland andtwo lymph nodes. Two days later Coby checked out of the hospital and flew toDenver to be with his father. Because the thyroid regulates metabolism, Cobygained 15 pounds in the next two weeks--and at the same time lost a lot ofconfidence. "It was the first time I can remember that I hadn't picked up abasketball for two weeks," says Coby. "I felt like I had lost myability, lost my feel for the game."
After spendinghours at the gym each week, however, Coby had rounded back into shape by June(he takes a daily thyroid replacement pill to regulate his metabolism) and waswell into preparations for his final season in Boise. Now fully recovered, hewas averaging 13.6 points a game at week's end. There's even some thought thathe'll be playing in the NBA next year; he's projected as a second-round draftpick. "He'll make it," says George. "He's a competitives.o.b."
Another thingfather and son have in common.
Big Shoes to Fill
In addition to Coby Karl and Florida's well-known duoof Taurean Green and Al Horford, a number of other college players have NBApedigrees. Here are the most productive at week's end.
STEPHEN CURRY, 6'1", Fr., SG, Davidson (son ofDell)
Dropped 32 on Michigan in his second career game. Averaging 18.9 points, 5.4rebounds and 3.6 assists
PAUL GRAHAM III, 6'5", Soph., SG, Florida Atlantic(Snoop)
Top player for coach Rex Walters's Owls, leads team with 16.6 points and 4.4assists a game
ANTHONY MASON JR., 6'7", Soph., SF, St. John's(Anthony)
Wiry, athletic wing with more hops, less bulk (at 207 pounds, he trails by 58)than Senior. Averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 boards
WESLEY MATTHEWS, 6'5", Soph., SG, Marquette(Wes)
Four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier (at 200) than his dad, he averages11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds
BRYCE TAYLOR, 6'5", Jr., SG, Oregon (Brian)
Has bounced back from an injury-plagued season to average 15.5 points and 5.8rebounds
George (inset) watched as Coby scored 18 in a win over BYU lastweek.