Bobby Lutz is regarded by many as one of the greatest minds in the game of basketball today.
The Catawba County native and associate men’s basketball coach at N.C. State is also a champion for those battling mental illnesses.
Lutz spoke Thursday morning at Abernethy Laurels Retirement Community during “A Reason to Hope,” a special event that raised awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s good to be home,” Lutz said during his speech. “I’m proud to be from Catawba County. I grew up not far from here. I still tell people that I’m from Denver of the East ... I was very blessed to grow up in a great community here.”
Several different people spoke during “A Reason to Hope,” sharing their personal experiences with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Lutz spent his time talking about his mother, Janice, and her struggle with the ailment.
“This is not my story. That’s why this is probably the toughest speech I have ever given,” Lutz said. “It is easy to talk about the things I’ve done in coaching or wherever, but this is a story about my mom and dad. They were together like ham and eggs. They were together all of the time.”
Lutz described his mother as not only a caregiver, but also a teacher and a philanthropist.
“She was an award-winning teacher. Perhaps her greatest role was of a mother and a grandmother. Dozens of students and parents I see from time to time that I don’t know will come up, approach me and tell me what a difference she made in their life. That doesn’t surprise me, but it’s still a source of pride.”
In 2001, Lutz discovered that his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
With tears streaming down his face, Lutz recounted the conversation he had with his father about his mother’s condition.
“It is a very emotional thing for you when that happens to your role model,” he said. “That hits you in the face. I went to the doctor with my parents. I cannot describe it. When the doctor asked her to draw a clock, to see her try to draw a clock and what she drew didn’t come close to it. It was unbelievable. It was the most heartbreaking thing you could ever imagine.”
For the next six years, Lutz’s father took care of his mother until he could no longer because of his declining health.
She was moved to Abernethy Laurels, where she still currently resides.
On April 12, 2012, Lutz’s father passed away at age 76.
Despite the loss, his son was determined to help continue to not only help take care of his mother, but fight the disease that had engulfed her mind.
“His dying wish was to help find a cure,” Lutz said of his late father. “That’s why I’ve chosen to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association. I plan on continuing to be active in dad’s memory and my mom’s honor at this point.”
Not only is Lutz active with the Alzheimer’s Association, but also with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
One of Lutz’s former players at UNC-Charlotte — Charles Hayward — died from cancer on Sept. 11, 1999.
“Other diseases are bad and terrible,” Lutz said. “I’ve had my share of tragedies ... I was there the last two days of (Hayward’s) life with his mom in Chapel Hill at a hospital. As terrible as that was until the end, he kept the essence of who he was. He talked to his mom and was able to tell her he loved her in his last days. That doesn’t happen with Alzheimer’s.”
Concluding his speech, Lutz made a monetary donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.
He is hopeful that others will do the same.
“That is why this disease has to be fought,” Lutz said. “If (Alzheimer's) happens to you or someone you love, you can’t just run and hide. You have to face it and deal with it.”
Back on the court, Lutz is helping the Wolfpack gear up for their 2013 college basketball season.
N.C. State has won 48 games the past two seasons with two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolfpack play in the expanded Atlantic Coast Conference this winter, which includes former Big East squads Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame along with tradition ACC rivals in North Carolina and Duke.
“The league has always been great, but now it is the best league,” Lutz said. “Next year when Louisville comes in, it is only going to get stronger. It’s going to be a challenge, but that is part of the fun. Our fans are excited to be back in the mix.”
In the end, Lutz related back to family, crediting his parents for his success so far in coaching.
“Thirty-three years ago at Jones Fish Camp, I told my mother and father I was quitting law school to coach high school girls and boys JV basketball at Bandys High School and that I’d make $200 that year,” he said. “I think they thought I was crazy, but they let me come back home and took me in.”