Drew Buggs had been dreaming about this season of basketball for years. He was going to be a redshirt junior at Hawaii, where he was going to improve on his record-setting career with his best-ever effort. His family was going to come out to the islands to see a game, his first time playing in front of his mom and dad and three younger siblings since he graduated from Long Beach Poly.
At the end of the school year, they’d all be back on the islands to see him graduate, then he’d come home with them to plan the next step. Buggs will indeed graduate in a few weeks—virtually—after which he’ll be a grad transfer to play at the University of Missouri next season. But the dreams of the year turned into a nightmare with the loss of his mother, Mary Buggs, who passed away in October from breast cancer.
“It’s definitely hard,” he said. “This is not the way I envisioned this year at all.”
Buggs spent the summer on the island, rehabbing an injury and training for the upcoming season. Already the school’s all-time assists and steals leader, he wanted to really put his mark on the Big West. He went home for a week before the Fall semester just to see everyone and touch base.
While he was there, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, in an advanced stage.
“It had spread to her back,” said Buggs. “I had to leave a day later, and that was really hard, knowing she was in the hospital.”
After returning to the island, he focused on basketball and school, and got only good updates from home.
“My mom is so strong, and she was only telling me the positive stuff, how well she’s doing,” he said. “She wanted to shield us, she didn’t want us to worry about her.”
Her condition worsened, and in mid-October, called Drew to tell him that she couldn’t make one of his little brother Luke’s flag football games. Drew and Mary coached several All-City middle school championship teams together at Tincher while he was a student at Poly, and he knew how serious things must have gotten if she was missing a game.
On Monday, October 13th, he got a call from his father.
“He FaceTimed me, and he’s never FaceTimed me, so I knew something was wrong,” said Drew.
He got the news that he needed to come home. Drew told his coaches at Hawaii, who booked him a flight for the next day. Drew decided to go to practice right after getting the news that his mom was in critical condition.
“I didn’t want to sit at home and just think about it,” he said. “I can’t see her, I can’t talk to her—so I went to practice.”
Drew was able to get home in time to say goodbye, and then help plan Mary’s services, held a few days after her passing so that Drew could attend before going back to school.
He didn’t miss a game this season for Hawaii, and was voted the team’s most inspirational player, even after letting his coaches and teammates know he’d be transferring after graduating.
“I lost my best friend in seventh grade, I lost my uncle, I lost my mom,” said Drew. “I’m just someone who doesn’t want to sit there and sulk and look for sympathy. I want to continue to live my life in their honor. I know life is a fickle thing, and I appreciate every day I have. My mom was my biggest fan and supporter and I know that’s what she wants me to do.”
The hardest part for Drew wasn’t continuing with his season and his schoolwork—because of the strength his parents instilled in him, he said that was actually the easy part. The hard part was not being there to cheer on Luke, or his sister Lily, who came off a knee injury this year to have a standout season on the court at Long Beach Poly, earning Moore League Player of the Year honors.
“It was hard knowing what they were going through not having her there at their games,” he said. “But my family is really strong—we’re always there for each other, however we can be.”
Drew also said that although he’s graduating virtually, although his mom couldn’t make a game in person on the islands this year, he still feels her presence every day.
“It’s hard, but I also know that she’s still with me,” he said. “That keeps me going and pushing.”