ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Marc Rybczyk is back where he belongs — where he’s been for the better part of his life since the 1980s — the basketball court. The former Niagara men’s basketball assistant coach had lost that part of himself for more than two years as he was battling cancer.
When he was first diagnosed, he was given an ultimatum: be admitted that very moment, or be dead in two months.
“I’m going to practice,” Rybczyk told the doctor. He chose basketball. He chose death.
“He was kinda like, ‘You know what, I’ve had a good life, it’s all good,'” explained Ali Jaques, Rybczyk’s fiance at the time, wife now. But the former Siena women’s basketball head coach didn’t accept “no” for an answer.
The couple got a second opinion and together, battled Marc’s diffuse B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer had done a number on the bones in his back, pelvis, and hip. Fighting it wasn’t easy. The pain was prevalent, as was the anxiety.
“Every little thing is unknown, so every day you’re scared,” said Rybczyk.
After two years, Rybczyk was declared cancer-free. About six or seven months ago, Rybczyk started feeling good for full weeks at a time, but he was still out of a job. Until he got an offer from Albany Patroons head coach Will Brown to join his staff as an assistant.
The answer was an easy ‘yes.’
“To be back in [basketball] is a gift,” said Rybczyk, whose energy and toughness, two cornerstones of his personality, have come back full tilt. He wasn’t sure when he accepted the position, though, that he’d be able to perform at the level he expects of himself.
“Physically can I be in the gym every day like I used to be? Interact with the players. Be on the floor and have that same energy that I had?” Rybczyk questioned himself. “Because if I couldn’t do it 100% I didn’t want to do it.”
He took the chance, and it didn’t take long for Rybczyk to prove to himself and everyone around him that not only is he ready… he’s thriving. An inspiration every day to players and coaches alike, Rybczyk has earned the respect of his boss, Will Brown.
“He’s really, really good,” said Brown, who is doing what he can to help Rybczyk get back into the college game, where he’d ultimately like to continue his career.
“Some program that gives him an opportunity,” said Brown, “[Rybczyk’s] going to help them get better from day one.”
As long as he’s on a bench like his father who beat pancreatic cancer and gave Marc a ‘blueprint’ for survival, Rybczyk will be where he belongs.
“Everybody has something that they’re meant to do, a meaning of life. And I think that [coaching] is my meaning of life,” said Rybczyk.
It’s a life he now never takes for granted.