DuBOIS, PA (WTAJ) — The Basketball Tournament tips off Saturday, and for the eighth consecutive year, Sideline Cancer will compete for the 1 million dollar prize.

The team, which plays for the Griffith Family Foundation, serves to raise money and awareness for pancreatic cancer research. This year it rosters DuBois native Albert Varacallo. The tournament begins Saturday, July 16. Sideline Cancer will play their first game Monday in the Xavier Region.

Varacallo is no stranger to the TBT, having played for the DuBois Dream in years past. But this year he suits up in the purple and black, playing for a cause that’s meant so much to him and his family.

“Basketball has always been my escape from reality. I always call it like therapy, because anytime I can get the shoot in an open gym or playing a game, I’m there because it’s a great place to be,” Varacallo said. “But once my mom got diagnosed, everything like nothing else matters.”

In December, Albert’s mom Luanne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“Spoon feeding her water just in ice cubes, and just watching someone so strong… I keep telling people it was a straight nosedive,” he said.

The American Cancer Society says the 5-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is just 11 percent. Three months after Luanne was diagnosed, she died. She passed at the age of 64.

“It just shows how powerful and how vicious that pancreatic cancer is, because once it took hold of her and there was just no turning back,” Albert said. “She she just kept fighting and fighting and fighting and finally was just, you know, when it was her time…It hit me and my family very hard.”

Throughout Luanne’s fight, Albert found comfort on the sideline with Sideline Cancer.

“It’s nice to be able to talk to someone like Jordan Griffith, who is a similar age. We can talk about our experiences,” he said. “Because you don’t have any hope or any type of direction, you just look to lean on people. And there they were, the people that I leaned on.”

Albert and the Griffiths drew closer throughout Luanne’s battle and it only made sense that he’d join the team this year for the Basketball Tournament.

“I’m blessed to be a part of the team and it’s nice to be the local flavor for the team,” he said.

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Sideline Cancer has made a run at the title the past few seasons, making the semifinals in 2021, and losing in the championship game in 2020.

This year’s roster includes star returnees like Maurice Creek and Marcus Keene. The team will also feature the year’s 17-year NBA vet C.J. Miles. But nobody is happier to be there, than Albert.

“Basketball is going to be my time to just honor my mom. And like I said, it’s my mom. I have her over my heart. I have her right here on my wrist. And I don’t know, I feel like she’s going to be watching over this TV. T And I have a good feeling about it,” he said.