By Camron Ghorbi
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Natalia Brooks had never heard her daughter talk about sports. But right before falling asleep on Saturday night, Deja Webster told her mother that when she grows up, she wants to be a basketball player.
"She was never interested in basketball before all of this," Natalia said. "Yesterday she was exhausted when she got home, and she usually doesn't go to bed until late."
Deja had reason to be tired. As the first local youth to be recognized by the University of Miami in conjunction with the Austen Everett Foundation, Deja spent the past two days as an honorary member of the Miami Hurricanes women's basketball team. And while she is battling Stage III Hodgkin's lymphoma, her impending radiation treatment was the last thing on her mind after the Hurricanes' 68-42 win over Virginia Tech Sunday afternoon.
"I had never been to a real court before," Deja said. "When I got here, everyone was so friendly, so nice, so full of spirit. It felt like I was right at home."
After meeting the team during their practice on Saturday afternoon, Deja sat on the bench for Sunday's game while her mother Natalia and cousin Kent sat in the first row. She spent halftime in the locker room listening to head coach Katie Meier's speech, and led the team in prayer at center court after the victory.
"I felt like one of the players out there, our interactions were so much fun," she said. "The girls had me laughing the whole time. I just felt like I had known them forever."
Deja was recognized with a team-autographed ball during a presentation at a first-half timeout. Deservedly, the Miami, Fla., native received a standing ovation from the crowd.
"She really enjoyed the experience," Natalia said. "It's great for the team and the girls to lend themselves to something like that. It really can make a difference in someone's life - it has already made a difference in hers."
Deja wasn't the only one who enjoyed the experience.
"It's inspirational for me," sophomore Suriya McGuire said. "Life can be so much worse for us. For us to have an impact on her, for her to want to spend time with us, it means a lot to me."
While Deja is already looking forward to returning to the BankUnited Center for her next Hurricanes game, the courage displayed by the youngster helped remind the team about the importance of enjoying each and every moment."It opens my eyes to other things," McGuire said. "We all need to stick together as a team and be happy in the moment. You can't predict your future. It was inspirational."