Condolences tonight to former UK senior walk-on Mark Krebs and his family. His mother Terri finally succumbed to a long battle with cancer. But it was as courageous a battle as you’re going to see. She fought it for nine years after being given the prognosis of having only nine months to live.
Terri Krebs’ story, and her efforts to stay alive to watch her son play last season for UK, her presence at Senior Day and seeing him hit the court and score in the NCAA Tournament, were among the most moving I was around this year.
Below is the Senior Day column I wrote about them.
Senior Day is one for the Krebs family
By ERIC CRAWFORD
March 8, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Postpone all that postseason talk for just a few minutes. Set aside the seeding speculation. Mark Krebs’ story is worth it.
You don’t read much about Krebs in the sports pages. He sits at the end of the University of Kentucky basketball bench, and – you know how it works – the fans chant for him at the end of games. He doesn’t even get to play much in practice.
That’s no easy thing for a kid who grew up in the gym. His father, Mark Sr., was a longtime high school coach in northern Kentucky. As a Mark Jr. played for three different teams, and his mom, Terri, taxied him to all of them.
You might know the story of how he got a basketball scholarship to DivisionIII Thomas More College in Erlanger, Ky., but wanted more than that and decided to approach then-UK coach Tubby Smith for a chance to walk on for the Wildcats.
Not many people know that to do that, he took a piece of paper and wrote a letter to Smith by hand.
“I knew a guy that was good friends with Tubby, and I said, ‘Do you think there’s any way you can hand him a letter for me,'” Krebs said. “…I just wrote and told him that I really wanted to be a part of the tradition at UK and that I’m an extremely hard worker and have a good attitude, had good grades and wouldn’t hurt him on the team.”
Krebs kept writing him letters. He visited campus and stuck a stack of testimonial letters from Northern Kentucky coaches and teachers, just for good measure.
And Tubby took him.
But nobody in the Krebs family, not the father who coached him, nor the mother who supported him, really much imagined a day like Sunday, when Krebs, now a scholarship player through the action of coach John Calipari, stood at center court of Rupp Arena, receiving his framed UK jersey.
And if that were all there was to Krebs’ story, it would be a great story. And I sure wish that it were. But the reality is that nobody in Rupp Arena on Sunday needed to hear “My Old Kentucky Home” to be moved to tears.
Because Terri Krebs was there in her wheelchair, terminally ill with breast cancer. To say she has been living for this moment is no figure of speech.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago at age 40, doctors gave her 6-9 months to live. She has beaten it for a long time, but now it has spread to her bones, lungs and liver. Mark Krebs said she’s on about the last medicine they can try.
When he walked onto the court and saw his parents and other family members waiting, I can’t imagine what emotion went through him. Calipari said, “It hit you in the gut.”
“Inside it was, I wouldn’t say killing me, but it was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Krebs said. “It was a lot of emotion all coming together. My four years here, all the fans.”
Every UK player hugged Terri Krebs and spoke to the family. Then after four years and three coaches and student loans and all the family has experienced, he was introduced as a starter for UK.
“It was definitely emotional for me,” he said. “I tried to hold it in because I knew I needed to play. I couldn’t just sit there and cry and be all about myself. I wasn’t going to do that. I knew I needed to make plays and play defense, so I held it together pretty well.”
Krebs played hard, and he did some good things. But he missed a three-point shot. He was called for a charge on a drive to the basket. He left the game after five minutes and didn’t return.
We don’t always get to write our endings. But as Krebs has shown from the day he wrote the letter that made that moment, we can write some unforgettable chapters leading up to them.