COLUMBIA — It's easy for Brad Loos to talk about the Rally for Rhyan game five years on, now that the game and its fundraising efforts have grown, and now that Rhyan Loos has been cancer-free for more than three years.
The goal, at first, was to raise $10,000 for pediatric cancer research. Total donations and fundraising surpassed $500,000 following last year's game, and as long as Missouri fans keep giving, the event will continue to support an excellent cause.
"I wish we could take the credit for it, I'd love to say it was all me and my wife, but really it's the people of this community, it's the people of the state, it's the Mizzou family that have really made this what it is," Loos, a former Kim Anderson assistant who now works for the athletic department, said Friday.
The Tigers (10-12, 2-7 Southeastern Conference) host Arkansas (16-6, 4-5 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. today. Jeremiah Tilmon, who played 12 minutes at Texas A&M on Tuesday, is expected to play again today with a minutes restriction. Mark Smith (lower back) is a game-time decision.
Most of the Rally for Rhyan fundraising comes in-person at Mizzou Arena during the game.
"Selfishly, to be honest with you, I think being able to give back has really helped us, because people are constantly trying to help you," Loos said. "It makes us feel like we're doing something to repay all those people that helped us along the way."
Rhyan, who her dad joked is "nine going on 19," has been able to get back to the life of a normal 9-year-old, attending school, dance classes and sleepovers. The process has given her a maturity, and Brad has seen her grow from the shy kid who was carried onto the court a few years ago to one who greets the crowd with a smile and wave, and understands the significance of their generosity.
The game resonates with the fanbase — it was well-attended even when the team wasn't doing well — the players, who are 4-0 in the games, and even with Cuonzo Martin, who had no prior connections to Loos before coming to Missouri. Martin beat the non-Hodgkin lymphoma he was diagnosed with in 1998.
"When you're talking pediatric cancer, life is life," Martin said. "There is a God, in my opinion, I truly believe that, and oftentimes you want to have questions why something like that would happen to a youth, but she's done a tremendous job. She's probably 38 months clean, which is tremendous. For her to stay clean, to fight for her friends and young kids all across the world, I think it's very important.
"I've always been a guy, I don't know why, it's always been hard for me to even talk about it, just to even say the word. I don't know why, but it's what it is. It's real. I think you try to block that out of your mind as much as possible, because I can look in the mirror and see scars to know it exists, not that I'm running from it or afraid of it. But I try to minimize that conversation as much as possible."
The Razorbacks come into the game needing a win. Arkansas recently lost star wing Isaiah Joe for the season after an arthroscopic procedure to correct knee inflammation. After starting the season 12-1 under first-year head coach Eric Musselman, they have lost four of their last five games in conference, despite Mason Jones averaging 28.6 points per game in that stretch. Jones scored 40 points in an overtime loss Tuesday to Auburn.
A strong defense has helped Musselman's entry to the SEC, as the Razorbacks have given up more than 80 points once all season, in an overtime loss at Western Kentucky. Two areas in which Arkansas struggles, however, are with size and rebounding. The team has not given minutes to anyone taller than 6-foot-8 this season, mostly going to sophomore Reggie Chaney, and the next-tallest player on the court in the Razorbacks' regular lineup is Jones, who is 6-5.
Between Tilmon, who likely won't start and will play around 12 minutes, according to Martin, Mitchell Smith and Reed Nikko, Missouri has three players at 6-10 or taller who will be on the court, often at the same time.
"I know my minutes limited, so just go out there and go hard the whole time, hoping everything stays the same, I stay healthy," Tilmon said. "Of course I'm going to go hard regardless of how long I'm out there."
Tilmon said he and the coaching and medical staff have no idea how the stress fracture in his left foot developed, only that he alerted them to the fact it hurt and an MRI before the New Year revealed the injury.
And when asked what challenge Arkansas presented, he responded, "Challenge? We're the challenge. We're beating ourselves the past couple of games, so we've got to look up and play Mizzou ball, look at ourselves in the mirror, for real."
The Tigers haven't won consecutive games since beating Illinois, now one of the Big Ten's two best teams, and Chicago State in late December. Missouri went 2-6 in January and February without Tilmon on the court, and is 0-2 without Mark Smith.