Donte Bryan’s tears were still noticeable as they dried on his cheek.
The Taft basketball standout had just relived his two-year battle with cancer as he accepted the Edwuard Nogay Award for Strength and Courage at the PSAL Wingate Award dinner June 9 at the Brooklyn Marriot. The award was named for Nogay, who played boys’ volleyball at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn through sarcoma and the amputation of his arm before dying in June 2013. For Bryan, who first heard of Nogay’s story at the PSAL dinner, the honor was further validation of his fight for his life.
“This award means a lot to be me because a lot of times I felt like giving up throughout the hard days,” the senior said. “My mom always told me that I would have to be strong. It paid off.”
It was a long road back for Bryan.
He was cut from the Golden Eagles’ junior varsity team as a freshman, before making the squad as sophomore. He was all set to start on the varsity as a junior in November 2012, but 10 days before the opener, he was limping and complaining of a pain in legs. A series of tests revealed he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Taft Coach George Diaz said Bryan didn’t fully understand the severity of his situation. Bryan thought he could take pill and he’d be better.
His coach and his teammates visited him constantly in the hospital, but Diaz said it was tough to keep their spirits up as they watched the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Bryan whittle down to 125 pounds. Bryan admitted there where moments through his treatment when he felt like he wouldn’t have the strength to go on.
“Plenty of times I just felt like giving up,” Bryan said. “I thought it was the last me and it wasn’t”
But Bryan kept going. He cheered for his team dressed in uniform and with no hair, providing inspirational support during its run to the PSAL Class A semifinals in 2013.
His return to full-time action was a long process. When the scrappy, defensive minded forward came back, he’d go up to try to dunk, but could barely make a layup. He was winded quickly.
“It was tough for us,” Diaz said. “There were a lot of tears. There was a lot of crying. When he broke down we stayed up; we stayed strong [for him].”
Bryan was back on the court this season for Taft and will play next year at Sullivan Community College. He averaged 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds in 14 contests. Kim Tolve, Nogay’s coach at Fort Hamilton, made sure to shake Byan’s hand. She choked up telling him how happy she was the that award was going to “such a great young man.” It’s something that all at Taft already knew.
“It showed everybody in the school you can achieve pretty much anything,” Diaz said.
Even Bryan doubted that at one point, when things were at their lowest. But the tough times were worth it, leaving him grateful for every moment since then, he said.
“I’m blessed,” Bryan said. “I look at the hard times and look at me now.”