SportsPulse: USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick recaps all the biggest moments from the first day of March Madness and looks ahead to Friday’s action.
HARTFORD, Conn. — Phil Cofer was in Florida State’s locker room at the XL Center on Thursday night when his phone rang, and his heart sunk.
The voice on the other end of the line told him that his father, Mike, had died after a lengthy fight with amyloidosis — a rare disease that disrupts the function of kidneys and other organs. He was 58.
“It was just painful, to see your brother hurt like that,” senior Terance Mann said Friday, recounting the moment when Cofer received the news after their win against Vermont. “We kind of all got together, cried with him.”
Now, as Florida State prepares for a meeting with Ja Morant and Murray State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, it must also cope with the grief and shock of the elder Cofer’s death.
Phil Cofer, a senior starter who missed the team’s opening-round win due to injury, was not in the locker room with his teammates early Friday afternoon. But coach Leonard Hamilton said he will be with the team when it plays Murray State.
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“We’ve had several conversations was his family. And they want him to remain with the team, and he wants to remain with his team,” Hamilton said. “And then we’ll make whatever adjustments we have to from there.”
The mood in Florida State’s locker room was still somber Friday, as players seemed to field as many questions about their grieving teammate as they did about Morant. Mann said the team mourned together after Thursday’s game, then returned to the hotel. They brought Cofer some food, and watched other NCAA tournament games with him in relative silence.
“He said he still wants us to play,” senior guard PJ Savoy said. “He’s hurting, but we’re here for a reason and he still wants this season to be special. We’re all rallying for him, pulling for him. We’re going to give it all we have.”
In fact, Hamilton said, the team had decided even prior to Thursday’s news that it was going to dedicate this season to Mike Cofer, who was a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Detroit Lions.
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“He is a guy who had to endure an unbelievably challenging debilitating disease that mentally and emotionally was draining in itself, but the physical toll it took on his body is beyond anything that you possibly could explain,” Hamilton said. “And he never complained. He always faced it every day with the heart of a lion, with tremendous amount of courage, and he passed that same mental and emotional aspect over to his son, Phil.”
Phil Cofer has averaged 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Mann said the Seminoles have cherished his leadership this season, and his defensive intensity. And they will be playing for Cofer on Saturday — even if, due to injury or otherwise, he won’t be able to play with them.
“Whatever he needs,” Mann said, “we got him.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.