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Posted on Sun, Dec 27, 2009 : 6:02 p.m.

Michigan basketball players work with Kids Kicking Cancer

By Michael Rothstein

Sitting in the bottom rows of Crisler Arena, the kids waited for their chance to show what they can do, why the Michigan basketball team invited them to perform.

At midcourt, the Michigan basketball team sat in a row, not sure what they were going to see. By the time it was over Sunday, both the kids and the Michigan basketball players learned something.

For the Michigan players, it was another chance to teach basketball drills to children. In that, nothing was much different.

It was what came before that made a different pre-practice routine for Michigan worthwhile. Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, a black belt in karate expert who lost his first child to cancer in 1983, started Kids Kicking Cancer - a Michigan-based organization that has branched out to other areas of the country - as a way to help children cope with pain. The goal, according to the organization's Web site, "trains pediatric cancer patients to see themselves as capable and important participants in their own healing."

They do this through martial arts and breathing techniques, preaching a three-word phrase of "peace, power and purpose."

"I believe strongly in some of those things, studied them a bit," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I think everyone has always talked about taking deep breaths before foul shooting to relax you, and then any time you see a baby being born and the breathing that your wife goes through, it's pretty effective to fight pain."

So Rabbi Goldberg told stories to Michigan's players, about how the kids he works with - ranging from toddlers to teenagers - deal with getting shots and going through treatment by using the techniques taught to them. The kids taught Michigan's players how to do some of the techniques - and Beilein stood in the back practicing the repetitions as his players watched.

"I did the breathing thing," senior forward Anthony Wright said. "I always try to act all cool, like I'm not doing this, but I did it both times and I was just trying to see how it felt.

"Not necessarily using it, but I would try it to see how it works and if it helped, I would definitely continue it."

The organization was brought to Michigan basketball by former guard David Merritt, who integrated volunteerism with his new company, IMU. He brought the two groups together and from there, everything went about how he thought it would.

The players saw kids fighting diseases through the power of martial arts and breathing. The kids picked up basketball pointers from college basketball players.

"It's a really interesting concept. (Rabbi Goldberg) told a story of how it got started," sophomore guard Zack Novak said. "It's a really good thing they have going there and it seems like it's really helping the kids out a lot. Some of the stories about the 4-year-old girl taking the shot and being able to take it when she says 'I'll use my breathing techniques,'

"I mean, you might be skeptical at first but when you hear stories like that it's got to be pretty powerful, even if it's a mental thing."

NOTE: Junior guard Manny Harris didn't participate in the session because he was in treatment and rehabilitation for his sore hamstrings.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.