From the moment Justin McKoy arrived on the North Carolina Campus in the summer of 2021 he brought an infectious energy to the Tar Heels, quickly earning him the nickname “Spark Plug” from teammates and coaches alike. Just before the Tar Heels departed for New Orleans to take on Duke in the Final Four he used his spark to brighten the day of a young fan battling cancer. 

The Road to Tobacco Road 

As a Cary, North Carolina native, McKoy grew up playing basketball while imagining donning a blue and white jersey and playing for the local Tar Heels. After graduating from Panther Creek High School as the school’s all-time leading scorer, he committed to the University of Virginia. McKoy played in 33 games as a Cavalier, averaging just over three points per game. After the 2020 -21 season, he put his name in the transfer portal and came home to North Carolina, where he joined other transfers like Dawson Garcia and  Brady Manek and first-year head coach, Hubert Davis. 

Putting the Madness in March 

The Tar Heels finished the 21-22 regular season with a 29-10 record that earned them an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. In the first round of the tourney, the team defeated Marquette by a 28 point margin. Over the next four rounds, North Carolina would bust some brackets upsetting the defending champions, Baylor, in overtime. They then beat fourth-seeded UCLA and the national favorite,15th ceded St. Peters, to advance to the 21st Final Four in program history. In this game, they would meet arch-rival Duke in what could potentially be Coach K’s final game.

Once again, UNC came away with an upset victory, defeating No.1 seeded Duke 88-77.  Check out some of the game highlights below.

Making an Impact

Right before one of the biggest games of his life, McKoy took the time out of his busy schedule to meet with six-year-old Ashlyn Perkins who was diagnosed with cancer in 2020. When McKoy found out about Perkins’s story through his mother he knew he had to meet her.  When the two met in late March they spent two hours together reading books and making crafts.

“I was on cloud 9 for the rest of the day,” Perkins’s mother Julie told reporters after the visit.  “Just the fact this young man, who is leaving for the Final Four, he came – not just said hi – he sat down and got to know us.”

When asked why it was so important to McKoy to make the visit happen, he had a simple yet profound answer. 

“I’m starting to realize that life isn’t all about me,” McKoy said. “It’s bigger than me and always will be, and there is peace in that. When you live life that way, you appreciate everything a lot more.”

McKoy hopes that his visit can raise awareness for Perkins’ battle with cancer and can help the family deal with rising medical costs. If you would like to donate to the family click on the Gofundme link here. 

UNC would go on to lose to Kanas in the National Championship, but even though their amazing run came to end, the impact that  McKoy made off the court will last a lifetime. 

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