Steward Named a Finalist for 2009 Jimmy V Comeback Award

Steward Named a Finalist for 2009 Jimmy V Comeback Award

2009 V Foundation Comeback Award Finalists Announced - Steward on the List

Award presented by The V Foundation for Cancer Research and ESPN

Cary, N.C. -- The V Foundation for Cancer Research has announced the finalists for the ninth annual V Foundation Comeback Award. The award is presented in conjunction with ESPN and the recipient will be announced during ESPN's basketball Final Four/NIT weekend coverage.

The finalists are: Suzanne Albert, Felician College; Jermaine Bishop, Northern Arizona University; Kelvin Davis, San Diego State University; Joe Ford, University of the Pacific; Jerika Jenkins, Hampton University; Brooke Johnson, Western Carolina University; Cait McMahan, University of Tennessee; Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Team, University of Mississippi; Eleia Roddy, University of Kentucky; Dana Pernell Smith II, Longwood University; Tiffara Steward, Farmingdale State College; Azania Stewart, University of Florida.

The annual award is open to men and women collegiate basketball student-athletes in all divisions. It is awarded to an individual or a team who has accomplished a personal triumph in the face of true adversity, be it in health, life or moral dilemma. Student-athletes are nominated by their athletics department representative.

The award is presented in memory of Jim Valvano, the late basketball coach and ESPN commentator, whose personal battle with cancer inspired the creation of The V Foundation. In his memorable speech at ESPN's inaugural ESPY Awards announcing the creation of The V Foundation, Valvano's “Don’t Give Up. . .Don’t Ever Give Up!”® motto created a legacy from which the Comeback Award was created.

“We continue to be amazed at the strength and resilience of the student-athletes who are nominated for The V Foundation Comeback Award,” said V Foundation CEO Nick Valvano. “These young people are outstanding student-athletes who have faced adversity and challenges with incredible determination and strength.”

“This is the ninth year of the award, and, once again, the nominees capture the "Never Give Up' spirit of The V Foundation,” Valvano continued. “I would be honored to have my brother's name be remembered with each and every one of them.”

The 2009 recipient will be selected by an eight-member sub-committee of The V Foundation Board of Directors. Past recipients of the award are Purdue's Katie Douglas (2001), Western Michigan's Kristin Koetsier (2002), Arizona State's Justin Allen (2003), Texas' Jamie Carey (2004), Washington's Kayla Burt (2005), Western Washington's Grant Dykstra (2006), the United States Military Academy Women’s Basketball Team (2007), and Drexel University's Nicole Hester (2008).

2009 V Foundation Comeback Award Finalists:

Suzanne Albert, Graduate Student, Felician College – In 2006 Suzanne was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). After returning home to Montreal for treatment, Suzanne spent two months in rehab, relearning basic tasks like walking and feeding herself. Doctors say her determination as a student athlete helped to cut her rehab time in half. Then, shortly before she was scheduled to play again that year she tore her ACL, causing a tough decision of either continuing with school or rehabbing to play again. Suzanne chose grueling rehab for another year; this season she is on the active roster for both basketball and volleyball.

Jermaine Bishop, SR, Northern Arizona University – Jermaine is starting and playing exceptional defense for NAU, but given his state eight months ago, the fact that he is even walking is a miracle; following routine surgery to correct a shoulder problem this summer, he developed acute rhabdomyolysis that damaged his body, starting with his legs; surgery followed on his legs followed by two weeks in intensive care; he rehabbed his lungs to play in the Flagstaff altitude, and had to relearn to walk; played his first game back on December 5.

Kelvin Davis, SR, San Diego State University – In Kelvin's first season with SDSU, he was averaging 11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in the first 16 games, acting as one of the team's top contributors. During the end of the season his numbers started to drop; a few weeks after the season ended Kelvin was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He began his chemotherapy treatment during the summer, meaning that in the fall Kelvin would miss significant practice time due to radiation treatments. However, despite his appointments, he managed to rush over and finish practice with his teammates as if he were healthy. In the 2008-2009 season, Davis has played eight games, averaging 10.6 minutes per game.

Joe Ford, JR, University of the Pacific – Prior to the 2007-2008 season, an x-ray showed that Joe had a stress fracture in his right leg. Doctors had to place a titanium rod in his leg to stabilize his tibia, and it was thought that he would not be able to play basketball again. Joe returned to play with the Tigers in the 2007-2008 season; however, even running and jumping caused him pain. It was determined that he would not be able to compete, but four months later after a scholarship became available, Joe decided to give it one more shot. He ended up starting the first nine games of the season at point guard, scoring 109 points in 25 games, and is second on the team with 27 steals.

Jerika Jenkins, FR, Hampton University – Jerika was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at the age of 14 after doctors found a lump on her collarbone. Instead of letting the disease take her away from the game she loved, Jerika continued to play basketball throughout high school, leading her team to 51-15 record during the 2006-2007 seasons. Jerika, who has been cancer free since November 2007, was named First Team All District both seasons, and in 2007 was offensive player of the year. This is Jerika's freshman year at Hampton; she is third on the team in scoring with an average of 8.5 points per game, and on January 17, she scored a career-high 18 points against South Carolina State.

Brooke Johnson, SR, Western Carolina University– On December 20, 2007 Brooke went down, suffering an apparent season-ending injury to her knee. After forgoing surgery, and enduring extensive rehabilitation, she decided to come back at the end of the season. Brooke's attempt ended up sidelining her for the rest of the season, and prompting her to go forward with the surgery. During her recovery, Brooke attended every Lady Catamount game, including the game that was the day after her surgery. Currently a senior, she has come back in full force, and was recently named a candidate for the Lowe's Senior Class Award.

Cait McMahan, RSO, University of Tennessee – A former point guard, Cait now paces the sideline as a student assistant coach for the Lady Vols. Due to a series of injuries to her right knee, she decided to take her basketball future in a different path. It was always a dream of Cait's to play basketball under Coach Summit, and although she can no longer compete, she sees this new opportunity as a chance to learn from a coach's perspective and to support her team. Not only has Cait had to endure the realism that she will never be able to compete in basketball again, but she also endured the loss of her mother to cancer in 2007. Cait used her strong bond with her mother to help her get through the hard times, along with her teammates and coaches, and emerged as a stronger, more determined woman.

Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Team, University of Mississippi – Andy Kennedy's Rebels entered into the 2008-2009 campaign with high hopes after making it to the NIT Final Four last year. However, the Rebels lost one of their most experienced players before their first game even tipped off. Trevor Gaskins suffered a torn ACL during preseason practice, and just 11 days later the team lost another veteran, Eniel Polynice, to a season-ending knee injury. Then, during a close battle with Louisville this season, Ole Miss lost their all-star point guard, Chris Warren, to an ACL injury during the last play of the game. The Rebels quickly earned the title of the “Nation's Most Inexperienced Team.” However, this didn't stop them from fighting back, winning five of their last seven contests, thanks to the emerging presence of two freshmen, Terrico White and Murphy Holloway.

Eleia Roddy, SR, University of Kentucky – After three injury riddled years, Eleia was ready to quit. Fifteen games into her freshman season, Eleia had her first surgery to repair her medial meniscus. She came back healthy, averaging 7.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. But just before her junior season, Eleia tore her ACL and had to have reconstructive surgery. She had to redshirt and miss the entire season. Around September 2007, she could tell that something was not right and had to have surgery again to remove loose bodies in the knee and missed the first 12 games of the season. Eleia has come back and now averages 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. With seven straight double-doubles, she became only the second female player in school history to chart six or more consecutive double-doubles.

Dana Pernell Smith II, JR, Longwood University – Dana Smith is currently the leading scorer and rebounder at the emerging Division I Longwood University. He is playing at full strength, and to those that are unaware, it would seem surprising that he has already undergone three knee surgeries. Dana tore his right ACL just a month after signing to Longwood, causing him to sit out the majority of his freshman season. Three games into the 2006-2007 season he tweaked his knee in what turned out to be a season ending torn menisci, requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation. Then, 10 games into the 2007-2008 season, Dana tore his left ACL, causing more surgery, rehabilitation, and sitting on the sideline. Instead of getting discouraged by his many injuries, Dana chose to stay positive and keep fighting. So far this season, Dana has lead his team to a 15-12 start.

Tiffara Steward, JR, Farmingdale State College – Tiffara Steward stands at 4'6" and is thought to be the shortest collegiate basketball player ever. However, it is not her short stature that is Tiffara's greatest obstacle. She was born three months premature, weighed only two pounds, and underwent three surgeries by the time she was three years old. Tiffara still battles multiple permanent disabilities today; she is blind in her right eye, as she was born without a cornea, and has over 50% hearing loss in both of her ears. She has a leg discrepancy, and also battles severe scoliosis; her spine, to date, is still not completely fused. This was unknown to most of Tiffara???s teammates, coaches and administration until this year. She never uses her disability as an excuse in any aspect of her life; instead, she uses sheer courage and determination in the face of true adversity.

Azania Stewart, FR, University of Florida – On September 10, 2008 Azania had to have one of her kidneys removed due to a sudden infection. Since she is from London, Azania spent much time without familial support and faced her recovery alone. She was told she could not play for two months after the surgery, but six weeks was enough for Azania, as she was back on the court shooting around and practicing. She spent extra time in the weight room, came to work out in between classes and even snuck in shooting practice, all before being cleared by a doctor. Azania???s sheer determination to play enabled her to compete earlier than she was supposed to, and now she averages 10.5 minutes a game, with 4.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1 block.

Visit the Comeback Award page for more information on The V Foundation's Comeback Award and view a list of past finalists and winners.

The V Foundation for Cancer Research

The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator. Since 1993, The Foundation has raised more than $80 million to fund cancer research grants nationwide. It awards 100 percent of all new direct cash donations and net proceeds of events directly to cancer research and related programs. The Foundation, which has received six consecutive top 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator, awards grants through a competitive awards process strictly supervised by a Scientific Advisory Board. For more information on The V Foundation or to make a donation, please visit