BY CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: Ferguson attempts a three-pointer last season. Emma Reider photo
With his eyes set on attending Salisbury University, Chase Kumor received an assignment from his future head coach Josh Merkel as a senior in high school a few seasons ago. Then as the SU men’s basketball head coach, Merkel wanted Kumor to reach out to another recruit that Merkel was trying to swing toward joining the Sea Gulls.
On the fence at the time about attending SU, Jack Ferguson also was debating joining the military instead of the maroon and gold. Kumor had no idea what to say to this basketball player that he had never met.
Kumor said that the two immediately connected in the end, talking about basketball and how much they loved SU. Things did change, though, when it was announced just a few weeks later that Merkel was leaving SU.
The move led to another phone call between the two to see how each other felt about SU moving forward. They both knew where they belonged.
“You never know how long your basketball career is going to last if you get injured or you just don’t like it anymore,” Kumor said. “We both just really fell in love with the school.”
To Kumor, a trusting friendship had already begun from there prior to both students making their way to SU.
From there, the friendship continued, living in a triple dorm during their freshman year. Rooming together in each following year, the two friends also would visit each other in the summers when away from school.
As continual members of the SU men’s basketball program too, that friendship was preserved entering their senior years. However, that is when both Ferguson and Kumor would face one of their toughest tests.
Toward the end of the summer, Ferguson began to have health complications. The symptoms were eventually diagnosed as Histiocytic Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
“At first when Jack was diagnosed, it was shocking,” Kumor said. “It was a lot to kind of take in. It was almost like we were avoiding what was happening. We wouldn’t really talk about it. Then, it got to the point where we had both kind of accepted what was going on and decided that we were both going to need each other through this.”
Those trips back and forth over the summers turned into trips for Kumor up to Ottawa to visit Ferguson as he received treatment away from school. The two continued their daily friendships of sharing funny Family Guy videos, video chatting and texting.
“Things really haven’t changed,” Kumor said. “I think it’s important. He’s well aware that I’m here for him every step of the way. I’d hop on a plane tomorrow if he needed me to go back up there.”
While the two Sea Gulls are in constant contact with each other despite the current situation, Kumor said that it is definitely a little weird not having Ferguson around, considering the amount of time they spent together over the last few seasons. That includes basketball practice this season.
Ferguson is coming off his top season in the maroon and gold, in which he made 24 appearances alongside one start. He tallied seven games in which he scored at least two three-pointers last season. Former SU graduate assistant coach Daniel Eacho saw Ferguson as a key asset off of the bench last season.
“He helped us win a lot of games last year,” Eacho said. “If we were struggling on offense, we put him in, and he banked some big shots for us. I told him that.”
“It’s a shame what happened because I was looking forward to a big year from him both on the court and off the court, because I know he had big plans after basketball, too.”
Eacho said that he remembers the amount of work he saw Ferguson putting in just this past summer to prepare for practice and the eventual season ahead, visiting Maggs Physical Activities Center often to work out.
Leading by example is the way both Eacho and Kumor describe Ferguson, whether on the court or off of it. They both cite the great work Ferguson has done in the classroom as well, with Kumor suggesting that Ferguson is eager to keep his 4.0 GPA when he returns to the classroom following treatment.
As a new member of the program at the beginning of last season, Eacho recalled Ferguson as one of the players that tried to establish a relationship right away as the former All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference center adjusted to his new environment.
“What I really enjoyed about Jack was his poise in practice and both on the court and off the court, whether things were going really great for him or not so great,” Eacho said. “He always kept a good, level head. It was always a great example for our younger guys.”
While Ferguson is away in Canada receiving treatment, that strong example continues on through the stories and experiences that his teammates had with him over the last few seasons. With seven new players on the squad this year, Kumor said that the players who have never met Ferguson still understand the impact he has had in the maroon and gold.
“They saw the level of passion of the eight returning guys around Jack,” Kumor said. “They’ve really rallied on. They’ve seen through us how much Jack meant to us, and they’ve just latched on 100 percent.”
The support of Ferguson has already taken form in a three-on-three basketball tournament to fundraise money earlier this fall to help cover health expenses and raise awareness. As the SU men’s basketball team continues to face its challenges in the season ahead, Ferguson will remain as an inspiration to the group whether he is visiting Salisbury or away receiving treatment.
At a recent meeting at the Optimist Club of Salisbury, Kumor said that he reminded the group in attendance that there is one additional captain there in spirit alongside him and senior point guard Blair Davis. On the team schedule cards and in spirit this season, Ferguson is a captain just as much as Kumor and Davis.
“Even though he’s not here physically, he’s definitely with us in every huddle that we take,” Kumor said. “Every time we step on that court, we’re playing for him, and he’s there with us no matter that.”