Moments after leaving the floor following his team's decisive 70-46 victory over Howard on Tuesday night, Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright noticed something unfamiliar sitting in his locker.
It was a giant poster-sized card offering the sophomore condolences for the death of his father earlier this month due to brain cancer.
On the front, the card read "We ♥ You, Cam." On the back, it had the message, "Your PITT family is here for you" surrounded by the signatures of his teammates and hundreds of members of Pittsburgh's student section, "The Oakland Zoo."
"It almost brought tears to my eyes, honestly, because I was so thankful for it," Wright said. "It just showed I have the support of all my teammates and my fellow students. It means a lot to me."
The touching gesture was the idea of the leaders of the Oakland Zoo after they learned Wright's father Kevin died the morning of Pittsburgh's season opener at age 48. They had fellow students sign the card before the Howard game and asked an athletic department staffer to place it in Wright's locker after the game for him to find.
"The Zoo really does love each of the players, and we wanted Cam to know that he had our support," Oakland Zoo vice president JD Schroeder said. "We didn't want to make a big deal out of it giving it to him in front of a crowd. We haven't talked to Cam directly, but one of the other players told us it meant quite a lot to him, which we're happy to hear."
Receiving the card was an emotional moment for Wright because of how much his father means to him.
Kevin and Cameron Wright would wake up before dawn every Saturday morning when Cameron was little so they could be first in line at the local barbershop to get a haircut. Not only did Kevin coach Cameron in basketball during grade school and take him to and from high school games and AAU tournaments, he moved from Cleveland to Pittsburgh when Cameron chose the Panthers in order to be able to see all of his son's home games.
Like Cameron, Kevin played basketball in high school, but he never realized his dream of playing in college. Kevin and Cameron's mother had their first child when they were both 20 years old, so the elder Wright shifted his focus toward working and helping take care of his kids.
"I'm living my dream as well as his," Cameron Wright said. "Now that he has passed away, it makes me more determined. I was always dedicated, but now I have a little bit more of what it takes to be that much better."
Wright learned his father had been diagnosed with brain and lung cancer when his mother called from the doctor's office in June 2011. Doctors initially only gave Wright's father four or five months to live, but he surpassed all expectations, making it to each one of his son's games last season and keeping up the fight until the morning of Nov. 9
Even though Wright had time to prepare for it, he described his father's death as "heartbreaking." Pittsburgh coaches encouraged him to take as much time away from basketball as he needed, but Wright asked if he could play that night, insisting that's what his dad would have wanted.
With "FMF" — for my father — scrawled on his sneakers, Wright played one of the best games of his career in an 80-48 blowout of Mount Saint Mary's. Wright pushed thoughts of his dad out of his mind for two hours, scoring eight points, grabbing three rebounds and making two steals in 17 minutes off the bench.
"My dad moved to Pittsburgh to see me play, so why wouldn't I play that night?" Wright said. "If I didn't play that night, I would have been letting him down. That's probably what was best for me anyway that night because it was a distraction from what was on my mind."
In the three weeks since his dad's death, Wright has spent a lot of time reflecting on all his dad did for him. He's thankful for the time they spent together yet also appreciative of the support system he now has at Pittsburgh.
Asked if he has a message for the students who signed the card for him earlier this week, Wright expressed heartfelt gratitude.
"I just want to say I love them a lot — a lot, a lot," Wright said. "There's nothing you can say when people go out of their way to do things like this for you, but I just want them to know that I'm really appreciative."
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