On Friday afternoon the Colorado men’s basketball team ‘signed’ its youngest (and perhaps cutest) ever recruit in 6-year-old Cason Turkaly. With the entire team and coaching staff in attendance, Cason officially signed his National Letter of Intent to become a part of the team.
“Cason, we’ve had our eye on you for about six or eight weeks now,” head coach Tad Boyle said, directly addressing Cason. “We love everything that you bring to the table. You’re a terrific man. We know you love basketball, and we think you’re going to fit in great with this Buffalo basketball family.”
Cason has made numerous appearances since Dec. 31 around team practices and postgame press conferences to examine the facilities before making his career-altering decision. Team IMPACT made it possible for the little guy, who suffers from Shwachman-Diamond syndrome.
According to the Genetics Home Reference website, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome is characterized as an extremely rare autosomal recessive disorder through which “the bone marrow malfunctions and does not make some or all types of white blood cells.” As a result, the low production of white blood cells makes Cason more susceptible to contracting other diseases, such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), leukemia and aplastic anemia.
Additionally, SDS affects the pancreas and skeletal system. The pancreas, which normally produces enzymes that break down food during digestion, does not produce enough of these enzymes and stunts growth in the early years of life. Such was the case with Cason during his first few years.
“For the first couple years of Cason’s life, he didn’t grow very much at all,” Cason’s mother Jen said during the press conference. “So he was first diagnosed with failure to thrive, lots of infections, because his bone marrow wasn’t working properly, so he was hospitalized a lot. We spent a couple of years searching for what was going on.”
Cason was diagnosed when he was just two years old.
Patients with SDS also often suffer from skeletal abnormalities like low bone density as well as problems with bone formation and growth. The disease is estimated to affect around one in every 350,000 people.
Team IMPACT, whose motto is to “improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team,” paired up Cason with the Colorado men’s basketball team upon learning of his illness.
Shortly after the end of last season, the organization contacted the team with hopes of setting Cason up to be the youngest Buffalo yet. It was an offer they couldn’t turn down.
“We jumped at the opportunity,” director of basketball operations Bill Cartun said. “It’s something that we really wanted to take part in and be involved with because we think we can make an impact in his life, but he’s going to make an impact on all of our lives as well.”
From the start, the Buffs players immediately connected with Cason and his family. Following the school’s win over Washington State, freshman forward Tory Miller carried Cason into the press room to be a part of the players’ press conference. His parents frequently take him to practice too.
“It’s fun seeing him run around in practice every day with a big smile on his face,” Cartun said. “It’s great to have him around and be able to spend time with his family as they become part of our family.”
His favorite player, Cason said, is “Big Tall Josh (Scott).”
To commemorate the big moment of signing on with the Buffs, Boyle gave Cason his very own No. 6 Turkaly jersey, CU Buffs basketball shorts, a basketball, a CU ball cap and a practice shirt for shoot around.
Cason was ecstatic, to say the least.
“I’m part of the team,” Cason said. “It’s great!”
During the press conference Jen Turkaly took a moment to address Cason’s new teammates directly.
“In learning about all that scary stuff (about the disease), we also learned to appreciate that little smile and his little bouncing around,” Jen said. “Every healthy day we have, we are thankful for, and I want you guys (the CU basketball players) to be appreciative of that too.”
Always one to spread a little joy, Cason ended the press conference on a high note when he leaned into the microphone and exclaimed, “Let’s go Buffs!”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alissa Noe at Alissa.firstname.lastname@example.org.