College basketball super fan collects jerseys to raise awareness for epilepsy
There is a place back in Monmouth, Oregon that’s filled with college basketball jerseys. All different colors, school names and logos are present on the rotary clothing racks.
Although it may look like it - it’s not a department store or an equipment room at a gym. It’s the home of super college basketball fan Bryan Black.
Black, 32, owns 164 college basketball jerseys - and counting. But before March of this year, he had none. With the goal to help raise awareness for epilepsy, Black began to collect jerseys, but little did he know the sensation it would become.
Black, an Oregon alum, began his love for college basketball as an undergrad student in Eugene. His friend Patrick, who was very knowledgable about the game, taught Black the ins-and-outs of college hoops. Black said after that he become addicted, with the hope of one day knowing as much as Patrick did.
He followed all of the programs from every league, with the ultimate dream to one day travel by car to every single game, from a basketball powerhouse to a new program, and get a basketball jersey from each school.
“Of course little did I know, you can’t just go to Quinnipiac and buy a basketball jersey,” Black said.
Black never stopped thinking about his ultimate college basketball road trip, but his dream was halted in 2008. That was when he first began to have seizures.
One day while Black was browsing Reddit, he saw people sharing about how they’ve collected jerseys for years and years. That’s when Black had the idea.
“I saw people with these collections, I thought to myself - all of these schools contribute people and research to not just the medical field, but neurology in particular and neuroscience,” Black said. “I thought, 'how about I find a way to show that off by combining my love for college basketball, my obsession with knowing every school and also try to know how the schools are important to the medical field.'"
He began sending personalized emails to schools, explaining his condition and his hope to one day catch a game on their home court when his health was in order.
He sent emails for about two weeks, which resulted in 20 jerseys being delivered to his doorstep a week later. Eastern Washington was first, right around St. Patrick’s Day. Nowadays, when FedEx, UPS and USPS all make it to his home in one day, that’s the “Trifecta.”
College basketball isn't just a passion for Black. In ways he can thank the season for helping his health. In 2015, doctors at OHSU suggested that Black start logging his seizures to found out a weekly average and during what time period they would occur. He found from early November to April his seizures would drop by half.
“It was pretty striking,” Black said. “And there is nothing I could think of but that I am so dialed in during that time. I have my family and then I have college basketball during that time of year.”
Black says he loves the passion and emotion that exudes from college basketball. He thinks you feel closer to the coaches and student-athletes and can see their vulnerability in the most stressful moments. That resonates with him.
“It’s the high stakes aspect of the game that I find absolutely beautiful,” Black said.
Now almost halfway to collecting all 351 Division I basketball jerseys, Black has some favorites and some he is still awaiting.
One jersey that really connects to him is from Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks head coach Kyle Keller and Black share a personal connection, as both have battled epilepsy. Keller sent a personal letter, a jersey and a pair of autographed shoes from Thomas Walkup. Keller said despite not having a seizure in 17 years, he knows how it can affect someone’s life.
Black could not imagine how far his collection has come. He has a list always handy with him of some schools he would love to get jerseys from: Gonzaga, Wichita State, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas, Harvard, Iona, UNLV, Belmont, Stanford, UCLA and Colgate are just some.
As Black fights his condition, he continues to focus on his family and of course college basketball. Black is a father of a four-year-old daughter and two-year old twin boys. Due to his condition, he can’t watch his kids alone, which often makes child care difficult for him and his wife Keygan. Black is a candidate for brain surgery for this year or next, which will be a stressful time for his family, but Black still manages to find hope -- often through his jersey collection.
“I would tell myself maybe one day something good will happen, it won’t always be bad. So when this happened it was like ‘Wow, this has become so much bigger,” Black said. “The connection I have had through this and other people has done so much for me. It has lifted my spirits. That’s why I want to share this message with people. If there is something you can find to relieve your stress, don’t hesitate to just focus on that.”
And of course his dream of one day visiting all the schools is still alive. He hopes to one day make the trip with a jersey to wear and a story to tell.