Andrew Kettel was a new high school coach, trying to help the leader of his first team through the toughest of times during the 2007-08 basketball season at Lackawanna Trail.
Kettel did his best to relieve any outside pressures from Casey Cathrall as the senior point guard’s father, Joe, battled pancreatic cancer.
“We had an understanding that if he wasn’t at a game or practice, workout or whatever, he didn’t have to call me to explain why,” said Kettel, who now coaches at Scranton Prep. “It was understood that his Dad was fighting for his life and he needed to be with his family.”
Every day when Kettel arrived at the gym, Casey was there.
“I think one of the things that really inspired me to just do a simple game for Coaches vs. Cancer was the fact that Casey never missed anything,” Kettel said.
Feeling like he should be doing something more, Kettel returned home from practice one evening and watched a Coaches vs. Cancer college game on television.
A movement was born.
Nine years later, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of Coaches vs. Cancer is thriving, continuing to grow.
And, Casey Cathrall still makes his way to the gym and the basketball court each day.
Cathrall began his latest job in the sport Thursday when he took over as strength and conditioning coach for the Dayton University men’s basketball team.
At the same time, the final preparations for one of the biggest nights of the year were being made on the Coaches vs. Cancer front.
A group of 430 supporters will gather Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs ballroom for the Coaches vs. Cancer BasketBall, the fifth annual coaches’ gala that is one of many events the group uses to raise funds for cancer.
By the time the night is over, the local program will likely exceed $1.5 million in donations. It is the most in the nation by a high school-based chapter that is not affiliated with a local NCAA Division I basketball program.
It began as a way to do something in the fight against cancer in recognition of Joe Cathrall.
Joe Cathrall passed at age 50, Feb. 17, 2008, two days after Casey’s high school basketball career ended with an upset loss to Carbondale in the District 2 playoffs. The inspiration of Joe, Casey and their family – Casey’s mother Wendy and younger brother Collin – continues to have an impact on the cause today.
“It’s amazing to think where it was, where it came about and where it’s at,” Casey said in a telephone interview during a lunch break on the first day of his new job. “It might have started with my Dad, but it’s really just a testament to the people of northeastern Pennsylvania and the community that’s there.”
Basketball has already taken Cathrall to New York, Florida, Colorado, Maryland, Louisiana and Ohio, but the former JB Hoops player remains proud of his roots in the game.
“I’ve been a lot of different places in the country and there’s nowhere else quite like it, especially the basketball community there is so close with the AAU as well as the general Lackawanna Leagues and Wyoming Valley leagues,” Cathrall said. “It’s great to see how far it’s gone and how many people’s lives it has touched. I remember when coach Kettel came to me my senior year about it.”
Cathrall wrapped himself in basketball long before he needed the support it would provide through his teenage years.
“I love basketball,” he said. “I grew up eat, sleep, breathe basketball; played AAU for (John Bucci). That’s what I did, played all year-round. It was the sport I fell in love with and identify with the most.”
And, the sport he turned to for a few hours in each of his darkest days.
“I think basketball was an outlet for a young man that was dealing with that at home,” Kettel said. “Basketball was a way, for two hours or more, to get away from that stuff and just play the game he loves.”
Cathrall remains thankful for that outlet and the people that made it possible.
“It was a crazy time in my life,” he said. “I was very fortunate and humbled that I had great people in my life, like coach Kettel and coach Bucci that when my father was going through treatment and my mom was taking care of him as a caregiver, they helped mentor me and make sure I was staying on the right path.
“I’m just so grateful that I had great people in my life like those guys.”
Although he combined it with his interest in medicine, Cathrall followed a similar path – into coaching.
After playing briefly at Ithaca College, Cathrall continued the academic pursuits that led him to his jobs in major college sports.
Cathrall earned a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Health Studies from Ithaca before heading to the University of Miami where he added his Master’s in Exercise Physiology, with a concentration in strength and conditioning.
During his senior year at Ithaca, Cathrall had altered his plans from becoming a physical therapist, deciding to work with athletes to help them get the most out of their motivation to improve their bodies.
Following internships at Florida International University and with the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado, Cathrall landed his first full-time job in the field as the director of strength and conditioning for the athletic teams at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
He began concentrating on basketball at Louisiana Tech before taking the similar position at Dayton.
“I’ve worked with a lot of sports, but basketball is really what has driven me,” Cathrall said.
It led Cathrall to Dayton where the Flyers have won at least 25 games and played in the NCAA Tournament each of the last four years under Archie Miller. In the top 50 all-time in Division I victories, Dayton has been to the tournament 18 times.
“I was familiar with it in recent years and the success they’ve had with coach Miller,” Cathrall said. “I knew it was a good program, but didn’t really know how good of a program it was until I got involved in the process.
“Then, you just sit back and go, ‘wow, this is special place’.”
Making it that far less than a decade removed from his days playing AAU and high school basketball has left Cathrall’s former coaches impressed.
“He’s a basketball nut like myself and others who love the game,” Kettel said. “I’m not surprised that he’s working in the game. I’m thrilled with that.
“I’m so proud of all of his accomplishments and everything he’s gained to this point and I know that the future is very bright for him at Dayton and in his years beyond that.”
Cathrall finds himself working in the game year-round.
“You’re at every practice; travel to every game,” Cathrall said. “In the offseason, I’ll work with the guys five days a week. We’ll lift four of those days. It’s not just lifting, it’s speed and agility, recovery sessions. A lot of it is going into corrective exercises.”
Cathrall explained the many facets of his job, including preventing injury – or at least reducing the likelihood of injury in the weightroom and on the basketball court. He’s involved with performance testing, similar to what is done at the NBA Combine, and the warm-up and cool-down portions of daily practices in season.
Before official practice starts in October, it is Cathrall’s responsibility to make sure the players are fit and ready to go.
“A main emphasis comes on conditioning – getting them in shape before they have to get in shape, so when you start your first practices in October, coach isn’t looking at them and saying, ‘man, we need to get on the sideline and run’,” Cathrall said.
Health bodies are not just built during running and weightroom work. Cathrall advises players on nutrition and even on life skills, such as how to shop for and prepare their food properly.
“Really, it’s a four-year process of just getting the most out of athletes, teaching them how to take care of themselves and teaching them to do it at a really high level,” he said.
Cathrall said he has been and remains fortunate to work with and around good people.
As he tries to help maintain the basketball exploits at Dayton, he carries with him an appreciation for the community that developed his love of the game.
Much of it traces back to one game night in his senior season when, with Kettel leading the way, the first $1,200 was raised locally for Coaches vs. Cancer, a partnership of the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
More importantly, the supportive spirit of what was being done that night extended into much more of Cathrall’s life and expanded into different directions, touching more families along the way while trying to be prepared to assist in the ongoing fight with cancer.
“The whole community in general has really looked out for me and my brother and my family,” he said. “You can’t ever really put into words the type of gratitude you feel for that. As I get older and as I look back, it’s amazing what the community did for us and continues to do for other families who go through similar tragedies.
“It’s just really remarkable and a great testament to all the people back home in northeastern Pennsylvania.”