Houston Cougars men’s basketball welcomed 10-year-old Jace Abarca (in the middle in white wearing glasses and to head coach Kelvin Sampson’s right) to the team on Tuesday. (Andy Yanez/Gallery Sports)
Houston Cougars men’s basketball welcomes 10-year-old Jace Abarca to the team
Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars men’s basketball team added a new addition to its 2022-23 roster on Tuesday when they welcomed a 10-year-old as the head ball boy for the year.
Jace Abarca signed his National Letter of Intent in front of a media congregation, the rest of the men’s basketball team, Shasta, UH’s mascot, and the UH cheerleaders.
“Jace comes from a great family,” Sampson said. “He is a leader. He’s got two little brothers that look up to him, so we are thinking he might have some leadership, point guard skills as we develop him.”
Abarca and his family were able to connect with Houston through Team IMPACT, an organization that matches kids facing serious illness and disabilities with college teams. Jace has lupus and kidney disorder.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jace’s mother, Yaneth Abarca, said they reached out to Team IMPACT because they knew of the organization’s work. She said Team IMPACT got back to them and matched Jace with Houston. When that happened, they were so excited because they knew they were going to have a great season, and they felt Jace could soak in a lot from the program, Yaneth said.
“We know that he can learn so much from them, and even though he is just going to be on the sidelines, he’s still learning. He still feels like he is a part of the team,” Yaneth said.
Jace’s father, James, said it is an honor how the Houston Cougars accepted and welcomed them to the program. Jace has already played video games and Uno! with the players on the team, Yaneth said. They even have sent him videos as well, she added.
James said that Jace’s positivity has motivated his family since they learned of his illness.
“From day one, (Jace) never hesitated and said, ‘whatever we have to do to get through this, I’m going to do.’ So, he’s motivated us, and I think that is what has brought us here,” James said. “Motivation. The way he inspired all of us around him.”
For Sampson, he hopes his players can also take away lessons from being around Jace. As recruits, kids take and take, he said. When they get to Houston, the thing they learn the most above anything else is the importance of giving back, Sampson added.
“I appreciate the platform to be able to do this,” Sampson said. “I think one of the things about our program is how humble we are. A lot of programs don’t know how to handle success because it will change them. For us, nothing ever changes. We go about our daily business, doing it the same way, regardless of the level of success we’ve had.”
Sampson also recognized his daughter, Lauren Sampson, the team’s Director for Basketball Operations, for Houston’s involvement with Team IMPACT.
When Jace isn’t on the court helping the Cougars this season, he will probably be doing something involving science or engineering with Legos, Yaneth said. His favorite thing about science is when people mix a bunch of different chemicals, he said. While he hasn’t been able to do any mixtures of his own yet, he is looking forward to doing it in the future, Jace said.
In the meantime, he will enjoy being around the team. He has had so many favorite moments he couldn’t choose one, Jace said. While he is looking forward to seeing the team win, he wants everyone on the Houston team to play Roblox together, Jace said. Roblox is an online platform that allows multiple online users to create and build their own games and experiences.
“This is his element,” Yaneth said. “He is really happy. He is really relaxed, and I love that for him. Most of his days are not like this. We thought we weren’t going to make it because he was so sick yesterday, and today it is like nothing, so we are glad to be here.”