Central head basketball coach Mike Reed readily admits he didn’t pay much attention to Kevin Negron at the start of last season.
Reed had just taken over as the Knights interim head coach shortly before the season began. He inherited a team that hadn’t won a game in two years. The attitude was poor. A negative atmosphere clouded the program. Reed had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.
“I was focused on the varsity. Kevin was on junior varsity. We practiced at the same time so I didn’t get a chance to see him,” said Reed.
One day, when the practice schedules allowed, Negron caught Reed’s attention. The average skills of the 6’2” undersized center didn’t cause Reed to do a double take, but Negron’s work ethic did.
“Kevin was working harder than anyone else. It was easy to see he was the hardest working guy on the team,” said Reed. “He did what he needed to do to get himself noticed. Instead of jacking up 15 shots he banged the boards and grabbed rebounds.”
When Reed took over last season his goal was to change the culture at Central. He immediately focused on instilling respect, hard work, commitment and dedication into the players. Negron, a junior at the time, checked all those boxes.
By mid-season Reed moved Negron up to join the varsity squad. At first, Negron was used sparingly.
“He’d go in to get a rebound. Eventually I couldn’t take him off the court. I couldn’t watch guys not give an effort and then put him in and see that he’d run through a wall for you,” said Reed.
By the end of the regular season Negron was an integral part of the Knights’ team that reached playoffs for the first time in four years. He earned his first start in the postseason.
“He did a great job. He keeps getting better,” said Reed.
Now a senior he was recently selected as the Knights’ captain.
“He’s a competitor. He’s learning how to be a leader. He’s not your bulldog leader that yells at everyone. He just sets the tone with his work ethic,” said Reed.
“Coach Reed has taught me to be responsible, how to play and how to get my head in the game and concentrate,” said Negron. “I’ve gotten a lot better.”
But Negron’s larger story isn’t about progressing on the basketball court. His story is about overcoming obstacles and beating the odds.
At 18, Negron is a Cancer survivor. He came to this country as a young teenager to seek better treatment than he had previously received in Puerto Rico and in the Dominican Republic, where he was born.
He was a pre-teen when his symptoms began. The first sign occured when he was on vacation in Puerto Rico with his family. Negron passed out on a boat ride. His mom thought he was sleeping, exhausted from the day’s activities.
Soon he began to complain of a severe headache. Then came nausea and other other flu-like symptoms. With little resources in an underdeveloped country, the Cancer went undiagnosed for nearly a year. When he was eventually diagnosed with Leukemia, he spent nearly two years undergoing treatment in a hospital in Puerto Rico.
“I was in the hospital all the time for the chemotherapy. When I felt good enough sometimes I would be able to go home, but I was tired all the time and didn’t do much,” said Negron.
To seek better treatment, Negron and his family moved to the United States.. He settled in Providence with his parents and three older brothers.
By the time he entered the eighth grade at Nathaniel Greene, he was Cancer free.
“I was so happy (to be Cancer free),” he said. “I can’t even describe the feeling.”
Still, he faced new obstacles. A new school. A new language. The challenge of making new friends compounded by a language barrier.
“It wasn’t easy. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t speak English,” said Negron.
He enrolled in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and immediately began to adapt to the new surroundings.
“It was hard at first, but I love it here,” said Negron. “I love this country.”
He has always loved basketball. His battle with Cancer had prevented him from playing with his older brothers and working on his game.
“I was mad because when I was sick I was tired all the time and couldn’t do the other things that everyone else was able to do,” said Negron. “Even when I felt good enough to play, no one would let me play. They were afraid they would hit my port or I would get hurt. I never got to play.”
In the brief time he has lived in this country, he has made the most of each and every opportunity. His dedication and desire to learn in the classroom and on the basketball court has propelled Negron. He now speaks fluent English, is a solid student and will be a key member of the Knights basketball team this season.
The Knights have been practicing for a couple of weeks, but the start of the game schedule remains uncertain due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Whenever the first game is played, Negron will be ready.
“I love basketball and love working hard to get better,” he said.
There have been additional obstacles. He recently lost an uncle to Covid-19.
“We stay home to keep everyone safe,” Negron said. “And I was never one to hang out on the streets.”
Basketball practice and school are Negron’s outlets.
The recent violence and destructive events at the nation’s Capitol have not diminished Negron’s love for this country.
“I have an opportunity here,” said Negron. “I can go to college. I can have a career here.”
His goal is to be the first one in his family to go to college.
“He’s the one guy on my team I don’t worry about after high school ends because he already has been through the worst of it and he knows how to work,” said Reed.
This coach and player have a unique bond. Both have overcome adversity and have beaten the odds. Both have battled Cancer. Reed also had a kidney transplant several years ago.
Reed knows first hand the challenges Negron has faced, but insists he doesn’t have a soft spot or favor the young Cancer survivor.
“Absolutely not. He has worked for everything he has gotten,” said Reed. “I can understand what he has gone through because he has battled Leukemia, but that doesn’t change anything . He’s the hardest working guy on my team.”