Of all the fans watching the Long Island University Brooklyn Blackbirds play in the first round of the NCAA tournament, no one was more excited than 8-year-old Londell Francis.
Londell suffers from sickle cell anemia and is in the hospital every three weeks for blood transfusions. But as an honorary member of the Blackbirds, he relishes every opportunity to watch his team play and to forget about his illness, at least for a little while.
"They all treat me like I'm a little brother to them," he said. "They always let me be on the bench and they really take care of me, make sure I'm OK."
Londell became an honorary member of the team through Team IMPACT, an organization that helps to improve the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses.
"He joined the team at the beginning of the year," senior forward Jamal Olasewere said in a news conference in Dayton Tuesday. "He's been a brother ever since."
Coach Jack Perri said Londell comes to the team's practices after he's done with school and joins them for meals.
"He's awesome," said Perri. "Our guys love him. They embrace him."
"When he's in the hospital, he'll take the phone and he'll call the guys, see what they are doing," said Londell's mother, Nedra Johnson, at the campus viewing party in Brooklyn Wednesday night. "They'll check on him. It's like having a whole bunch of older brothers."
When the Blackbirds beat Mount St. Mary's last Tuesday, the teammates celebrated with Londell, hoisting him up on their shoulders. And even though the team did not win Wednesday night, being part of the Blackbirds means the world to Londell and his mother.
"They tried their best. They would have won, but the ball just wouldn't go in," Londell said.