By Jen Toland, Worcester Telegram & Gazette Staff Writer
WORCESTER - One night after basketball practice his freshman year at Marshfield High, Nick DaPrato got in the car and started complaining to his mother about his role on the team and his lack of playing time.
"She just looked at me," DaPrato, now a graduate student at
Clark, recalled this week, "and said, 'Maybe you're just not that
good.' I guess I was being kind of a brat. She wouldn't stand for
So DaPrato worked harder and got better and by the time he was a senior in high school he was a league all-star and team captain.
His first year at Clark, DaPrato, a late recruit by coach Paul Phillips, landed on the JV team. DaPrato missed all of his sophomore season after undergoing hip surgery and came off the bench as a junior. Last year, DaPrato made 24 starts and led the Cougars in scoring.
Before each of those games, Regina, who was battling pancreatic cancer, would tell her youngest son, "No soft layups, make your free throws and play good defense." Due to her illness, Regina made it to Kneller Athletic Center only once last season, but her pregame advice and lifelong love inspired DaPrato every time he stepped on the court.
"Just working hard, that's something my mom put in me," DaPrato said. "She worked hard. She lost her dad when she was 8. She was the first person in her family to go to college. She got her CPA — she did that all on her own. She was a hard worker, so that's where I get it from."
Regina lost her 11-month fight against her vicious disease in April. She was 55 and left behind her husband, Roger, and their three children, Matt, Giovana and Nick.
"You just have to keep going," said Nick, who earned his undergraduate degree in May, less than a month after his mother's passing, and is now pursuing his MBA and fulfilling his final year of basketball eligibility. "She wasn't afraid, so you can go forward and not be afraid because she wasn't."
On October 12, DaPrato and about 16 family members and friends will be "Running for Reg" at the BAA Half Marathon in Boston. The group will be raising awareness and money for pancreatic cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Regina's team has so far raised $31,000.
"She was an advocate for research and so selflessly thought that if there was not a cure for her that doesn't mean there won't be for someone else in the future," DaPrato said. "She would be so proud to be part of this group."
Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers.
"There is no testing or early detection for it," DaPrato said. "Most people find out too late. The key is to find it before it spreads. It's extremely aggressive."
DaPrato has never been a distance runner, but he had no problems during a 12-mile training run Sunday.
DaPrato showed great courage last year during his mother's illness. He maintained his excellent GPA and scored a career-high 40 points in the Cougars' amazing overtime win against Fitchburg State. Clark trailed by 13 with less than two minutes left in regulation. Phillips said DaPrato was quiet and spent a lot of time alone in the gym. Basketball, DaPrato said, was a great escape.
He went home to see Regina whenever he could.
"She was always good," he said. "She would never tell us how she was feeling. She was incredibly tough about it … you know how mothers are."
DaPrato will be one of the leaders on this year's Clark team.
"He hasn't told me," Phillips said, "but I think you can tell he's dedicating the season to his mom. She was his guiding light."
DaPrato and his brother both gave eulogies at Regina's funeral.
"That was the hardest thing I ever did," DaPrato said. "After that, things get easier. She set us up to be alright. She raised me for 21 years. I think I'm set up pretty good going forward."
To donate to DaPrato's great cause visit www.rundanafarber.org/baahalf2014/ndaprato. Pledges will be accepted through Sunday.