This was the day Julian Randle had been anticipating for years.
The lights. The cameras. A coach singing his praises to the gathered crowd. His proud parents at each end of the table, his mom wiping away tears, as he signed a letter of intent to play basketball.
When the moment came to sign for Newman University Thursday night, though, it was a bit different than he imagined.
“It’s kinda scary,” he admitted later.
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But nothing could wipe the smile from his face.
“I had a vision this was going to happen – and it actually did,” he said. “It was quite a blessing.”
Julian, 11, won’t actually be able to play basketball for the Jets. He’s battling juvenile dermatomyositis, a rare auto-immune disease with no known cure.
He undergoes monthly chemotherapy treatments that last eight or nine hours. His treatment regimen also includes weekly infusions of a chemotherapy drug.
Juvenile dermatomyositis affects three children in 1 million, attacking healthy muscles and connective tissues. Julian went undiagnosed until September 2012.
He has endured severe pain. He couldn’t sit on his classroom floor with his legs crossed because of severe pain. He often fell because of his weakened muscles.
At times, he had to use a wheelchair and his neck muscles grew so weak he couldn’t hold up his head. There have been numerous treatments, typically at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
He’s doing well enough now to be able to go to school at Allison Middle School.
“It’s awesome to go there,” he said of Allison.
His classmates may know little about Newman, he said, but he’s thrilled to be a Jet now.
“It’s the perfect fit,” Newman coach R.J. Allen said. “He’s one of the guys.”
Newman was contacted in June by Team Impact, an organization that connects children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses with local college teams.
Allen already knew Julian’s parents through Wichita basketball: LaToya was a star at Wichita East and Wichita State, and Melvin earned a scholarship from Cowley College.
“Basketball’s just part of the family,” Julian said.
Julian’s parents didn’t have signing days when they earned scholarships to college.
“It came through the mail,” Melvin said of his invitation to play ball for Cowley.
Julian’s older brother, Jaylen, plays at East High. One day, he hopes to have a signing day of his own. But Thursday was Julian’s day.
“I’m just happy and proud for him,” Jaylen, 17, said. “He’s been through a lot and definitely deserves it.”
Julian is competitive by nature, LaToya said, and it was so hard on him not to be able to be on a team.
“He craves it a lot – especially watching big brother play at East High,” she said.
Just being on the court, helping out a team, will be good for Julian, Jaylen said.
Allen said having Julian on the team isn’t just a token measure of kindness. He’s been coming to practices for about a week, and he’ll have complete access to the program. That means helping out at practice, being on the bench for games, even going on road trips when his health and schedule allow it.
“He shoots better than most of these guys,” Allen said during the signing ceremony. “They can take a lesson or two from Julian.”
Julian’s been shagging basketballs and offering encouragement during practices. He is excited about how he can help the team during games, too.
“Give water bottles, give them high fives when they come out of the game, tell them good job, just be there for them,” he said.
Having Julian on the team has already had an impact on his teammates, Allen said.
“It helps them keep things in perspective,” Allen said. “Here’s a young man that’s battling, but he comes to practice with a smile on his face and a great attitude.
“It’s really been a learning experience for our guys, learning how to deal with life and how to have that positive outlook.”
His teammates at Newman already commonly call him by his family nickname, Boogie. His mother dubbed him that because when she was pregnant with him “he was always moving.”
A few players took turns asking Julian questions in the ‘press conference’ that followed the ceremony. Ben Ayre asked what the number one thing Julian would bring to the team.
“Leadership and friendship and teamwork,” Julian said softly.
“And some pranks?” Ayre asked.
Anthony Harvey Jr. asked Julian what number he wanted.
That’s Harvey’s number.
“You can have it,” Harvey told him.
When the press conference concluded, several cameras converged to capture Julian signing his letter of intent.
“Feel like LeBron, eh?”Allen said.
When the ceremony had ended, Julian’s teammates surrounded him and started chanting.
“Boogie! Boogie! Boogie! Boogie!”
His smile was so bright it could light up a room.