Vanderhorst turns dark time to bright future

By Taylor Viles Sports Editor

Graduate student Kevin Vanderhorst shined equally on both sides of the court during the recent winter season. He averaged 12.6 for both points and rebounds per game. Photos courtesy of Janard Jones / Lasell Athletics

In October 2019, the 1851 Chronicle sat down with men’s basketball player Kevin Vanderhorst before his first full season following a six-month cancer battle. Two-and-a-half years later, we are circling back with Vanderhorst to check in on how his college experience has progressed.

The current master’s student was at the start of the first semester of his sophomore year, on a college campus he had just transferred to from Mount Ida, when he received the cancer diagnosis. It began in his kidney, but by the time it was discovered, it had metastasized to other parts of his body. It was stage 3b, one step before stage 4. 

“They were definitely optimistic with me being this young and just having a lot of energy,” Vanderhorst said of the doctors. “They had a pretty good idea I was going to get through chemo, which is probably the hardest part.”

He got through chemotherapy while continuing to attend practices and travel with the team. 

“He never doubted, he always had a smile,” said senior captain and longtime friend Kevin Nunez. “You could tell that the chemo was kicking him a little bit with his fatigue…but he always came to practice right after chemo.”

Longtime men’s basketball head coach Aaron Galletta was inspired by the attitude Vanderhorst displayed during his treatments. “I remember him saying that he would beat this and play again,” he said. “If you know Kevin, you know he is a fighter.  He took this as a challenge and faced it head-on.”

Vanderhorst described how his Laser peers helped to lift his spirits by cheering him on and supporting him in any way he needed it. His friends helped turn a “dark time” into an inspiring opportunity, further justifying his decision to choose Lasell as his second destination.

He recalled a story from his cancer battle that has made a difference in his life today. During a half-month stint at the hospital, Vanderhorst’s younger brother came to visit. Their parents had told him Vanderhorst had the flu. His brother came into the hospital room and said “‘it could be worse,’” Vanderhorst remembers. “I just started laughing. ‘It could be worse’ has literally stuck in my head since that day.”

He said this translated onto the basketball court. With the mentality that every game could be his last, he began to play like it. He finished his Lasell career playing in 55 games averaging 14.1 points per game, 11.2 rebounds per game and reaching the 1,000-point mark. The rebounding stat puts him in first place in the men’s basketball record books, according to the laserpride.lasell.edu. 

His incredible career was capped off by a season where he broke the single-game rebounding record with 27 also collecting 15 or more rebounds eight times.

He acknowledged the excitement the 2021-2022 season gave him, but it wasn’t only because of his individual accomplishments. “It was probably the best season I’ve had playing basketball, not so much just because of the stats, [but] just the group of guys.”

During our first interview in 2019, Vanderhorst told the 1851 Chronicle, ​​“I’m planning to come back to school and get my master’s degree. I want to play basketball one more year, for the year I was getting my treatments.” 

Two full seasons later, Vanderhorst is right where he predicted. He said creating goals like this is important to him. “I tried to set some goals for myself that I know I can accomplish and some that I can’t accomplish just to push myself.”

Vanderhorst was one of three captains for his team this season. Galletta says it’s because over the past three years, the tenacious 6’4” forward has become a tremendous leader. “The past couple seasons he has anchored our defense and has been invaluable to the development of our younger players. He has really turned into a mentor for them,” he said.

For now, Vanderhorst is ready to put his basketball dream to bed. This didn’t come without an opportunity to extend his career though. “I did have an offer to go play professional basketball, but I have so many responsibilities now.” Vanderhorst says coaching is still a possibility at some point.

At just over three years since his news of remission, Vanderhorst is looking forward to a bright future. He has been pondering law school as an option to follow the conclusion of his master’s degree which is in business administration with a concentration in project management.

No matter what Vanderhorst decides to turn to next, his teammates and the Lasell community will see him as a leader and a survivor who brings joy to anyone he encounters. “He’s never in a bad mood or anything,” said Nunez. “Nothing can let him down because he’s been through the worst.”

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